Did Bob Iger Just Undermine Bob Chapek?
The Hollywood Reporter has just published an article on Disney that has tongues wagging in Hollywood.
The town thrives on gossip, and this story feeds into the narrative that Bob Iger isn’t happy with his successor.
Did Bob Iger just undermine Bob Chapek? Let’s discuss.
In February of 2020, just as the pandemic disrupted international Disney parks, Bob Iger finally did the unthinkable.
The longtime Disney CEO announced his retirement. He planned a long goodbye, though.
Iger had many irons in the fire and wanted to keep an eye on creative endeavors at his company.
At the time, Iger promoted himself to Executive Chairman of Disney’s Board of Directors, thereby maintaining control of the company.
Still, Disney gained a new CEO for the first time in 15 years when Bob Chapek succeeded Iger.
Only six weeks later, Chapek seemed like the unluckiest CEO ever. Ships were literally sinking at the parks right up until…the parks closed.
Yes, 2020 proved disastrous for Disney theme parks, but Chapek somehow increased the company’s market cap.
After a reorganization, Chapek described Disney as primarily a streaming service.
Suddenly, Disney+ led the company’s streaming empire. Some titles debuted on Premier Access on the same day as in movie theaters as part of this decision.
Throughout the process, Iger’s perspective has remained the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation.
In fact, some suggested that a feud between Iger and Chapek unintentionally caused the Johansson dispute.
Iger could have interceded to avoid the matter. But, instead, Chapek appeared reticent to involve the retiring CEO.
In 2022, Chapek won’t have Iger to lean on, and he seems to be learning how to work solo on the job.
Meanwhile, Iger appears happy to let Chapek make big mistakes. After all, if Chapek struggles, Iger’s legacy as the best Disney CEO ever remains intact.
About Iger and Chapek’s Relationship
Hollywood has utilized clickbait for generations, long before the term existed. It’s a town where rumors and innuendo get passed around as fact.
I keep that in mind whenever someone reports on Disney. Still, I pay attention whenever Chapek and Iger appear together.
For instance, just before the debut of Disney Enchantment last week, the former and current Disney CEOs held a ceremony.
The two leaders celebrated Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. At the time, I commented to someone that they still seemed to like each other.
When you work closely with someone for many years, that’s not always the case.
Chapek had previously run Disney’s vaunted parks division, wherein he reported to Iger.
Even now, Iger technically remains above Chapek on the org chart and will unless/until the current CEO also earns the title of Chairman of the Board.
Given Disney’s significance in pop culture AND Wall Street, the strange relationship between the two men strikes outside observers as odd.
After all, Iger passed on several potential successors such as Jay Rasulo, Thomas Staggs, and Kevin Mayer. Iger chose Chapek instead.
The Creative/Data Debate
The Hollywood Report article suggests that Iger has regrets. It points to an executive retreat that the former CEO put together.
During this event, Iger provided “parting advice” for the people who would maintain Disney’s legacy. He suggested that people should value talent over data.
According to the author, Iger maintains that ”every transaction at Disney — parks, consumer products, movies and television — starts with creativity.”
Iger then reportedly listed a series of projects that never would have gotten off the ground based on data.
This group includes Black Panther, Coco, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
I’d add The Lion King to the list, as several Disney executives at the time believed that Pocahontas was their blue-chip project.
Some observers took this as a shot at Chapek. Hollywood’s rumor mill suggested that Chapek later clapped back that Disney is now “data-driven.”
This unsourced and disputed quote apparently didn’t even happen, according to people at the event.
Still, this comment feeds into the narrative that Chapek isn’t a creative. It’s the most incendiary debate in Hollywood right now.
Streaming services pay differently for television series and (especially) movies than conventional studios also have.
As the Johansson lawsuit showed, the difference can range in the tens of millions. That’s generational wealth that’s suddenly growing less readily available.
Chapek, the head of Disney, carries the torch now for the most powerful storytelling company in entertainment history…and he isn’t a creative.
Instead, Chapek values the bottom line more than bragging about the next tentpole blockbuster in production.
This debate involves legitimately billions of dollars. Iger appears to be siding with the talent about choosing the right projects independent of cost.
Why Would Iger Do This?
I could add a bit of insider baseball about a retiring Disney publicist who is a master of media manipulation. There’s no need, though.
Here’s all you really need to know about the article. It quotes Iger directly; Chapek doesn’t participate. As such, Iger’s pulling the strings here.
The Executive Chairman wants Hollywood types to know that Chapek has installed his own people.
As such, any success or failure is entirely on him. Iger’s effectively washing his hands of Disney by saying, “I’m one of you, a creative. He’s not.”
Is that strategy throwing Chapek under the bus? The answer’s nuanced. Yes, Iger wants to maintain the perception that he’s a genius.
Also, Iger may seek out future Hollywood projects. By disconnecting his legacy from Chapek’s decisions, he makes that easier.
In truth, we’ve just witnessed another masterful PR move from an artisan in this field.
Iger has remained above the fray in the corporate world because he has built a reputation that he’s a creative who can also excel at business.
That gives the man bona fides in Wall Street and Hollywood. Thus far, Chapek has impressed the former while infuriating the latter.
We know this because Disney’s market value has soared while many Hollywood agents and producers have lamented the company’s changes.
Nobody seems to know who’s in charge at Disney+ other than what gets reported in the trades.
I suspect that’s a feature, not a bug, by Chapek, but Hollywood’s “let’s do lunch” generation despises it. There are no palms to grease here.
These decisions provide an opening for Iger to say, “I did what I could, but the new guy has his own plans.”
Iger can exit gracefully as the conquering hero who has earned a happy retirement.
Should Disney Fans Worry about Chapek?
If you’ve thought nothing about this subject for the past six months, you may continue to do so. It’s not impactful to you.
Conversely, those of you worrying about Disney under Chapek should take plenty of good from this article.
Kevin Feige pointedly praises Chapek. You may think he’s just sucking up to the new boss, but let’s be blunt. Feige’s so powerful he doesn’t need to do that.
If Feige left the company tomorrow, Disney stock would plummet. He’s that vital to the bottom line.
So, I believe it’s meaningful that Feige does comment on the record, saying, “I think he (Chapek) is a creative guy, a nice guy, a real guy.”
That’s the recurring theme for Chapek. He’s a well-liked individual with a reputation as a grinder.
Feige even throws his new boss some love about the creative side, indicating that Chapek provides “just enough of an opinion to give good feedback.”
Folks, any creative will tell you that’s MUCH better than someone who is overly opinionated and a constant meddler.
On the theme park side, Chapek even deserves all the credit for the Tower of Terror reboot at Disney California Adventure.
The article describes him as the driving force and the person who came up with a detailed song list.
Anecdotally, Feige reveals that Chapek did something lovely when Avengers: Endgame broke the all-time box office record.
Chapek, who wasn’t CEO at the time, installed a Dole Whip machine (!) at Marvel’s offices!!!
Now we all want to work at Marvel, right? Well, even more than before…
Overall, Chapek comes across as a nice boss whose methods are working for everyone except for Hollywood.
In other words, Chapek knows that the movie industry has been permanently disrupted, and power brokers hate him for it.
Feature Image: Disney