In a sudden turn of events, Disney has reversed the CEO swap that surprised us in early 2020, with Bob Iger return to his post, replacing his own successor, Bob Chapek. Iger, who is also the company’s largest shareholder, will now serve another two-year term as CEO. Part of Iger’s job in those two years will be to choose and nurture his long-term successor.
Of course, Chapek was also Iger’s choice. Chapek has been dubbed the “Tim Cook of Iger’s Steve Jobs,” but during his tenure their transfer got off to a rocky start, while outbursts like the Scarlett Johansson Black Widow lawsuit and Disney’s initial lack of response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law damaged his all-important reputation.
During an episode of the Decoder podcast in April, former To forget writer and now Parrot Analytics senior strategy analyst Julia Alexander described the problems Chapek faced:
…Bob Chapek is in a difficult position trying to transform Disney, a legacy company of yesterday, into a legacy company of tomorrow. That means becoming more of a technology company rather than a traditional media and entertainment company. He’s arguably running it the way some tech companies would, splitting content production and distribution. He goes in and says, “This is how it’s going to work; we’re focusing on streaming, on the Metaverse, and on how to get into these different positions.
All these problems occur simultaneously. So it seems that Bob Chapek is losing control of the kingdom, while Bob Iger was in control of it. But what I think gets lost in that is that Bob Chapek has been a little over two years as CEO, and his first job was to get the company out of the pandemic and focus on how to just survive it. Now he is tasked with carrying the company very publicly in a way that generates support from shareholders, consumers and his employees. That’s easier said than done, especially for someone so new to the role.
While Iger initially pushed Disney into the streaming wars, Chapek’s reorganization of the company added confusion by putting Kareem Daniel, a non-streaming executive, in charge of all things streaming and studio budgets and increasing the emphasis on streaming.
The leadership change comes nearly two weeks after Disney reported fourth-quarter 2022 results, noting that both its parks and media divisions fell short of analyst estimates. Streaming business has grown, with an increasing number of subscribers opting for a bundle offer that combines Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus, but the cost of streaming is also rising. An ad-supported Disney Plus streaming plan will launch on December 8, and there are rumors of imminent layoffs.
Disney CEO Susan Arnold said in a statement: “We thank Bob Chapek for his services to Disney throughout his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. The board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this critical period.”
Bob Chapek was not named in the press release.