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Walt Disney Co. is reorganizing several of its businesses around two senior executives, parks chief Bob Chapek and strategy head Kevin Mayer, putting the two in a potential bake-off to succeed Bob Iger as chief executive officer.
Mayer, 55, was named chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses, which will include streaming operations such as Hulu as well as its international media networks, the company said Wednesday in a statement. Chapek, also 55, will head a combined theme park and consumer products business.
One new group, parks and consumer, represents two of Disney’s biggest businesses, while the other points to where Iger sees the future of TV — in online programming going directly to consumers’ living rooms and smartphones. The company’s domestic TV networks and its film studio continue as separate divisions under their current management. TV is Disney’s biggest business, though the company’s namesake parks posted the largest profit last quarter.
“Historically, Disney has been too siloed,” said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co. “This appears to be an attempt at breaking down silos, which is necessary for the future of media.”
Shares of Disney rose 0.5 percent to $104.27 at 2:13 p.m. in New York. They had declined 3.5 percent this year through Tuesday.
The reorganization gives greater authority to Mayer and Chapek, setting up both as possible successors to Iger, 67, as chief executive officer. With the $52.4 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox Inc. in the works, Iger recently extended his contract with Disney through 2021. That delays any succession announcement for at least a couple years.
Chapek ran the consumer products business, the largest entertainment licensor in the world, before taking over the theme parks in 2015.
Those divisions have often worked together on merchandising initiatives, such as exclusive clothing and toys to be sold at the resorts. His purview will once again include Disney’s retail stores, which have also been working more closely with the parks, such as streaming live parades from Disneyland at stores in malls. Together, he’ll have businesses that generated more than 40 percent of Disney’s combined revenue under his authority.
Mayer heads what will be a new division that includes the sports and entertainment streaming services Disney plans to launch. It’s a signal Iger has great faith in Mayer, who has led corporate strategy at Disney since 2005. In that role he’s advised Iger on acquisitions, from Pixar to the Fox deal, the largest in the company’s history.
The appointment makes him the chief architect of Disney’s new media strategy, as the company shifts from regular TV broadcasts through cable providers, to on-demand viewing over the internet. Disney’s international TV networks have operated under different business models, with the company selling programming directly to consumers in the U.K. for example. Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, will stay through the transition, the company said.
The move upends the company’s traditional organization structure, however, with Mayer’s new unit taking over program and advertising sales for conventional networks like ABC and ESPN. It also narrows the responsibilities of James Pitaro, the recently named president of ESPN, as well as Ben Sherwood, who oversees ABC.
It suggests Iger sees a huge role for the online business and wants his divisional leaders to focus even more on it.
“They’ll certainly have to work together,” said Eric Jackson of EMJ Capital Ltd., who owns Disney shares and comments on media and technology through a podcast he created. “This is bigger than just ESPN, this is probably the most important thing.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.