Why Are Some Disney Execs So Upset?
Nobody likes change. We’ve spent the past 16 months proving that.
When anything disrupts our routine, we tend to lash out and vent our frustrations to anyone willing to listen.
For proof, I offer recent rumors surrounding The Walt Disney Company’s inner turmoil.
Why are some Disney executives upset? It’s complicated…
Who’s the Boss?
In February of 2020, the most unusual game of thrones on Wall Street suddenly concluded anticlimactically.
After many years of speculation and failed contenders, Disney’s Board of Directors finally settled on a secession plan.
That wasn’t the odd part, though. Disney didn’t just settle. The Board made the change THAT day.
After 15 years as Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger promoted himself to Executive Chairman, which he could do since he’s also Disney’s Chairman of the Board.
As such, Iger possessed tremendous control over his company’s future. He determined his replacement, eventually settling for the obvious choice.
While many insiders on Wall Street expected Kevin A. Mayer to get the gig, Iger picked another Bob.
On February 25, 2020, Bob Chapek earned the title of CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
In the process, Chapek became arguably THE most powerful person in Hollywood.
I’m using two words here to underscore the dueling philosophies about this promotion.
Nobody would argue that Chapek was anything other than a loyal foot soldier at Disney.
To many, Chapek earned the job. To others, Disney settled on a yes person, someone who would do Iger’s bidding.
Much of what has happened since then stems from these two philosophies.
Chapek has charted his own course for the future of Disney, thereby upsetting the apple cart.
Liberated from years of conventional thinking, Disney has repositioned itself for the media industry’s future, one that relies on streaming services.
Frankly, Chapek has taken the same approach that made Mayer such an intriguing candidate.
Disney+ represented the latter candidate’s body of work with the company. Rather than shy away from the competition’s project, Chapek has leaned in.
Disney has benefited mightily from this boldness. Some members of the old guard don’t like it, though.
To his credit, Bob Iger anticipated the perils of the pandemic before anybody else. He knew that this cataclysmic event would disrupt his carefully laid plans.
For this reason, Iger had no taste for leading Disney during unprecedented times. On a fundamental level, he knew that his time had passed, too.
In choosing his successor, Iger picked a loyal company individual, someone who had worked his way up the hard way.
A person of many talents, Chapek had worked for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which made a mint selling VHS tapes of Disney animated classics.
Some Hollywood insiders dismiss Chapek as ignorant of the industry, but that’s a childish perspective. In truth, he understands Hollywood perfectly.
Money matters most, and Disney’s library has proven the most valuable during the streaming era.
So, at the first opportunity, Chapek eschewed conventional wisdom and changed the core business at Disney.
Sure, theme parks and the Linear Media empire have sustained the company for generations, but times have changed. Disney needs a different approach.
Chapek most famously worked as Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts from 2015 until 2020.
Despite his connections to home video and the theme parks, the new CEO has committed to Direct-to-Consumer, the streaming media division.
The philosophy here is that streaming services have proven bulletproof during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Disney’s other core models like theme parks, movie box office, and cruises have…well, you know.
However, the results speak for themselves. When Chapek became CEO, Disney stock possessed a value of roughly $120.
Due to the pandemic, the stock price cratered to less than $86. It hovers in the $180 range today.
Summarizing, Chapek has boosted the value of the stock by 50 percent during his tenure and overcome a historic setback caused by Coronavirus.
Disney’s Changing of the Guard
Oddly, Chapek’s correct decision has ruffled some feathers. Remember how people fear change? Well, change is the buzzword at Disney lately.
The old way of doing things no longer applies. Specifically, Chapek reconsolidated the alignment in the movie division.
Since Disney has chosen a path as a DTC company, Chapek runs everything through a single individual, Kareem Daniel.
As the Chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, Daniel decides where movies and television shows go.
Daniel has picked Jungle Cruise and Black Widow as Disney Premier titles. Then, he selected Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings for theatrical release.
This individual holds all the power in the film division, yet many people barely know him. And that’s the real issue here.
The 47-year-old Daniel interned at Disney and is a trusted confidante of Chapek. What he’s not is a member of the old guard at Disney.
Alan Horn, a living legend in Disney, remains the Chief Creative Officer, but Variety reports that he will retire at the end of 2021.
Bob Iger famously coaxed Horn out of retirement in 2012, after Fox foolishly pushed him out due to his age. He was 68 at the time.
Much of Disney’s creative renaissance over the past decade stems from Horn’s famed negotiating skills.
However, Disney has already phased him out by promoting his replacement, Alan Bergman, who had previously been Co-Chairman of Walt Disney Studios.
That move signaled a shift toward a more business-focused leadership chain. Nobody questions Bergman’s acumen, but he’s not from creative.
Horn earned the total trust of industry creatives during his storied career. He has spent the past few years helping Bergman with that side of the business.
Why Are Some Disney Executives Upset?
Imagine if you spent the past several years sucking up to your boss, only to learn that they wouldn’t be your boss anymore.
This behavior often happens in the business world. Hollywood works differently, though.
Executives rarely come out of nowhere to lead entire studios. Bergman worked his way up the chain, just like Horn had back in the day.
Meanwhile, Daniel has come out of nowhere as the face of the new Disney business model.
The people working in the film division knew and trusted Horn and, to a lesser extent, Bergman.
However, Daniel has usurped their power to the point that longtime Disney movie executives don’t know how much their projects have earned.
For example, Peter Rice once garnered acclaim as President at Fox Searchlight, the same division that just won Best Picture this year for Nomadland.
Later, Rice performed so well that he later ran Fox’s television division, earning the title of Chairman of Entertainment of Fox Networks Group.
Under the new Disney regime, Rice has lost responsibility as Chapek adds new managers.
Variety describes the new Disney hierarchy as needlessly complicated, with more leaders than needed.
However, the real issue involves power. The people who control the purse strings can point out their importance to the company.
The old-school Disney employees have lost that power. It’s under Daniel now. Therein lies the rub.
Symbolically, Daniel represents Disney’s future, while people like Horn and Iger reflect the past.
People who underestimated Chapek have since realized their mistake. He’s embraced his role and done what he feels is necessary.
In the process, Iger has gotten benched sooner than anyone expected…and they’re freaking out about it.
This is Bob Chapek’s Disney now, and his people hold all the power.
Feature Image: Drew Angerer/Getty