Disney CEO Bob Iger steps down in surprise announcement

NEW YORK (AP) – Disney CEO Bob Iger, who steered the company’s absorption of Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and Fox’s entertainment businesses and the launch of a Netflix challenger, is stepping down immediately, the company said in a surprise announcement on Tuesday.

The Walt Disney Co named as his replacement Bob Chapek, most recently Chairman of Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products Business.

“Did not see this coming – Wowza,” tweeted LightShed media analyst Rich Greenfield.

Iger will remain executive chairman through the end of his contract on December 31, 2021. Besides leading the board, Iger said he will spend more time on Disney’s creative endeavours, including the ESPN sports network, the newly acquired Fox studios and the Hulu and Disney Plus streaming services. He said he could not do that while running Disney on a day-to-day basis.

“It was not accelerated for any particular reason other than I felt the need was now to make this change,” Iger said on a conference call with reporters and analysts.

Iger steered Disney through the successful purchases of Lucasfilms, Marvel, Pixar and other brands that became big moneymakers for Disney. Last year, the top five movies in United States (US) and Canada theatres were all Disney movies, including two from Marvel and one from Pixar. With the December 20 release of the latest Star Wars movie last year, Disney had seven movies that each sold at least USD1 billion in tickets worldwide last year.

Iger’s most recent coup was orchestrating a USD71 billion purchase of Fox’s entertainment business in March and launching the Disney Plus streaming service in November. That service got nearly 29 million paid subscribers in less than three months. In a statement, Iger said it was the “optimal time” for a transition.

Pivotal Research Group analyst Jeffrey Wlodarczak said Iger had implied he would stay until his contract ended in 2021.

“On the other hand, they just successfully closed the Fox deal and had an unquestionably successful launch of Disney Plus so maybe he felt earlier was better to hand off the reins,” he said.

Director of research at Chatham Road Partners Colin Gillis said the choice of Chapek seems solid because his parks division has had success.

Chapek said that while he has not led television networks or streaming services, his background in consumer-oriented businesses should help. Chapek and Iger both stressed that Disney would continue on the direction it had already been taking.

Disney CEO Robert Iger. PHOTO: AP