Bob Iger's Disney Exit Surprised More Than Just Industry Analysts, And He Leaves Some Uncertainty In His Wake

Yesterday, Bob Iger stepped down as the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, handing the reins to Disney parks chief Bob Chapek. The news came as a huge surprise to Hollywood, industry analysts, and even a major player within the Disney company, and in the wake of the big announcement, some questions linger about the future of the company's streaming platforms.

Deadline reports that Kevin Mayer, the head of Disney's Direct to Consumer and International branch, was at Hulu announcing chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell's promotion to president of that company "when he cut his visit short to return to the Disney headquarters, presumably to attend a meeting where Iger's successor was unveiled." Mayer and Walt Disney television chairman Peter Rice were evidently being considered as candidates to replace Iger.

Chapek will report to Iger for the next 18 months, while everyone else will report to Chapek. "Storytelling is at the heart of what we do," Iger said on a surprise conference call yesterday. "Getting everything right creatively would be my number one goal when I leave at the end of 2021. I couldn't do that if I was still running the company day to day." He'll apparently turn most of his attention to the film studio, ESPN, media networks, and Disney+, with the aim of making the creative pipelines "rich and secure" before he leaves for good.

But Variety has some lingering questions about the future of the company's big two streaming services, Disney+ and Hulu. The outlet infers that "big organizational changes" may be coming to Hulu due to an announcement from Disney saying that new president Kelly Campbell will not only work closely with Disney's film and TV studios on Hulu original content, but also "with other DTCI [direct to consumer & international] leaders on the integration of key aspects of Hulu's operations across the segment." Iger has wanted to make Hulu more of an international contender in the streaming wars for a while now, but it's not yet where he wants it to be.

Meanwhile, Disney+ has experienced tremendous growth in its first quarter, but some analysts believe those are "exceptionally strong results that won't be replicated." Even with a second season of The Mandalorian and the debut of some Marvel Studios original shows coming to the platform later this year, there are still some questions about the retention rate of Verizon customers in the U.S. who were given the service for free for a year. Variety says "there's uncertainty about the direction of the service's content strategy", highlighting the behind-the-scenes problems with the Lizzie McGuire continuation series, the overhauling of the Obi-Wan scripts, and Disney's shifting of shows like the Zoe Kravitz-starringĀ High Fidelity and the Love, Simon follow-upĀ Love, Victor from Disney+ to Hulu because of concerns about the content being "too adult" for the Disney brand.

I'm very curious about Iger's decision here. Why the sudden change? What's the big rush? He was only contracted until the end of 2021, and with so much riding on these streaming services, it seems like sort of odd timing. My only guess is that he wants to spend more time on those potentially troublesome areas to shore up his legacy, and his day to day tasks as CEO were too overwhelming to be able to do that, so he offloaded them to someone else so he could devote 100% of his attention to the essentials. Iger's legacy looms large: he's likely one of the most successful CEOs in history, having spearheaded major acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox. He seems like a self-aware guy, so I find it difficult to believe that he would be comfortable walking away with these loose ends flapping in the breeze, so I'll be interested to see if we find out any specifics about his activities over the next 18 months or if we'll have to wait for him to write another book in a couple years to find out what happens during this transition period.