Bob Chapek’s Second Act Begins
The D23 Expo represents the most significant event on the Disney calendar.
Since all eyes are on Disney, its CEO, Bob Chapek, knows he’ll be in the public eye.
While Chapek sidestepped some of the attention by asking his trusted protégé, Josh D’Amaro, to host the parks panel, the CEO knew he had to speak some.
So, Chapek proactively went on a mini-press tour by performing interviews with multiple sources.
What became clear during these conversations is that Chapek’s second act has begun.
How We Got Here
History will remember Bob Chapek’s first act as Disney CEO as a series of endless debacles. Dude was on the job for a month, and a Jungle Cruise boat had already sunk.
Jungle cruise sinks .. Not sure how that happens…. #JungleCruise pic.twitter.com/42A0VsMRNh
— brian crusan (@briancrusan) February 28, 2020
I cannot blame him for the early woes, though. Instead, I liken Chapek’s situation to an NFL head coach.
People dream all their lives of getting these jobs, but there are only 32 of them in the world. So when one comes open, you take it, even if it’s with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Similarly, when Bob Iger offers you the job as CEO of Disney, you take it, pandemic or not. That’s what happened here.
Chapek wasn’t in any position to say, “Can we wait until 2021?” So he got a “take it or leave it” offer, and he took it.
The objective evaluation is that he wasn’t quite ready for the job, which is understandable.
How well do you think you would do if you suddenly took over your company? Exactly.
Chapek’s early struggles come down to a combination of naivete, inexperience, and incompetence. I hate to add that third one, but it’s true.
A recurring theme during Chapek’s first act was the unforced error.
#Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirms company "reset" on actor contracts in light of Scarlett Johansson lawsuit.https://t.co/NHq4ALGHWf pic.twitter.com/IAJIHZdNDe
— ComicBook.com (@ComicBook) September 21, 2021
In situations involving Scarlett Johansson and the Don’t Say Gay Bill, Chapek somehow reacted too slowly AND too aggressively.
Both instances called for a light touch. He broke out a sledgehammer instead.
Still, Chapek’s saving grace is that Disney had entered dire financial territory when he took over. The CEO’s decision-making righted the economic ship.
Disney is making money now, and the Board of Directors felt pleased enough with Chapek’s performance that he gained a three-year contract extension.
Thus begins Chapek’s second act. He’s fortunate enough to get a clean start and seems to recognize this remarkable opportunity.
Chapek Talks Shop
During his interviews, one subject came up repeatedly. People asked Chapek for his thoughts on Disney’s streaming services.
Media reporters are transfixed by Disney due to the questions surrounding ESPN+ and Hulu+.
Both services are wildly successful, having grown exponentially over the past two years.
However, some high-profile financial advisors have strongly suggested that Disney sell or spin off ESPN.
Chapek emphatically denounced this thought process. In fact, he came out so strongly in support of Disney keeping ESPN that the advisors backed down.
Within 48 hours of Chapek’s comments, the same people changed their minds and stated that Disney getting rid of ESPN would be a mistake.
This turn of events may not sound like much to you, but it’s quietly one of the strongest indicators of Chapek’s growing support on Wall Street.
He can scare people off a position when he says, “NO!”. This level of intimidation seems unlikely from such a kindly-looking man, but Chapek has this ability now.
The Other Half of the Debate
As for Hulu, the questions surround Disney’s upcoming showdown with Comcast. The latter party ceded control of Hulu to Disney.
In exchange, Disney promised to pay Comcast one-third of Hulu’s 2024 valuation. That amount will be at least $10 billion.
Comcast has taken Disney to arbitration over the matter. Comcast claims that Disney has hurt the value of Hulu so that it won’t have to pay as much.
A mediator is working with both parties to solve this argument. However, some people believe Comcast is being an irritant to coax Disney to sell Hulu back to them.
Chapek firmly states that Hulu isn’t merging with Disney+ and implies that it won’t be leaving the Disney umbrella anytime soon.
While answering a question, the CEO says the following:
“So, the question would be what would happen when we have full ownership of our general entertainment platform? And the answer to that question is whatever the consumer wants it to do.”
That’s Chapek’s way of quoting Natasha Bedingfield lyrics. He’s saying the future’s unwritten. Disney isn’t going to worry about 2024 until 2024.
I suspect Chapek really doesn’t want to write that $10 billion check, though. You could build an entire theme park with that kind of money…
Chapek Plans for Disney’s Future
The CEO touched on several other topics during his interviews. A subject that came up repeatedly was Disney’s theatrical schedule.
Chapek’s decision to utilize day-and-date during the pandemic angered some exhibitors so much that one famously tore up a Mulan poster in his theater lobby.
Meanwhile, Pixar has only had one title debut in theaters exclusively during the last 30 months. Unfortunately, it was the financial disappointment, Lightyear.
Exhibitors who previously tried to take a hard line with Disney have since ceded the point. The theater industry is in peril and won’t survive without Disney.
So, people are curious about what Chapek has planned for the future. The executive repeatedly reiterated the need for flexibility with films.
Still, he hinted that Disney will return to the previous release window conventions, at least for a while.
Pixar’s upcoming releases will likely debut in theaters first before heading to Disney+ in 50 days or less.
From the meta-perspective, Chapek has demonstrated that he has the power. Now, he’s showing signs of being magnanimous in victory.
Chapek states that some titles require a theatrical release, by which he means Marvel and Star Wars. Everything else works on a case-by-case basis.
Ultimately, the CEO aptly summarizes the current status of Hollywood and the theatrical industry:
“There’s a lot of folks in the business, in the industry, that want the world to go back to what it was, and it’s not, because the consumer has moved on.”
That quote could double as the state of the union address for the film industry in 2022.
Chapek knew he was right about this matter two years ago and is not afraid to say it now.
Final Thoughts on the Start of Chapek’s Second Act
Frankly, his latest interviews demonstrate that he’s learned on the job by recognizing his flaws and attempting to improve on them.
I can’t help but wonder whether much of the aggravation he experienced was easily avoidable.
When Iger left, his PR ace, Zenia Mucha, went with him. Chapek lacked a viable replacement, and his first choice for the gig, Geoff Morrell, proved disastrous.
Sources have since indicated that Morrell was the one who advised Chapek to stay silent on the Don’t Say Gay bill, thereby alienating most of Disney’s employees.
While several mistakes like the Johansson one came before Morrell’s tenure, they also occurred while Disney was experiencing a PR vacuum.
Morrell lasted less than four months at Disney. His successor, Kristina Schake, now holds the title of Chief Communications Officer at Disney.
Coincidentally or not, Chapek has demonstrated remarkable improvement since Schake’s hiring. She may prove essential to the success of Chapek’s second act.
Either way, you supposedly never gain a second chance to make a first impression.
Chapek’s successes over the past weekend have caused me to question the veracity of that statement. He’s been on quite the hot streak since his contract extension.
Will that trend continue? I’d suggest that answer depends on how long Disney waits to announce its next theme park-related price increase.
Feature Image: Charles Krupa/AP