Disney taps Chapek to head consumer products

Distribution chief replaces Andy Mooney, who ankled this week

The Walt Disney Co. should print up new business cards for Bob Chapek that read “distribution czar.”

In his latest ascension up the ranks at the Mouse House, Chapek was promoted to president of the consumer products division, one of Disney’s biggest moneymakers, last week.

Disney is turning to an executive who grew the company’s homevideo division into a powerhouse during the past decade, and transitioned it into the digital era. In late 2009, he was tapped by studio chairman Rich Ross to handle how the studio distributes its films theatrically. In his new post, Chapek now oversees how the company’s various lines of merchandise, from homevideo releases to licensed merchandise like videogames, books, toys, apparel, electronics, home decor and food, winds up on store shelves.

In each of his roles, Chapek has spearheaded the consolidation of his departments to streamline operations while identifying new revenue streams, and Disney chief Bob Iger is eager to continue such efforts in order to generate more profits.

Disney says Chapek will create “a new companywide consumer products organization, which will consolidate retail and licensing across Disney’s lines of businesses.” These include the studio’s films; toons from Pixar; superhero fare from Marvel; the ABC, Disney Channel and ESPN networks; websites and games; and traditional consumer products. It also includes its own retail channels, like DisneyStore.com.

As worldwide prexy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for three years and domestic head of that group for nearly a decade, Chapek was instrumental in reducing distribution and marketing costs to release discs, and helped lead the charge to build buzz around classic animated titles in its vault, launching combo packs of DVD, Blu-ray and digital copies to increase sales. More recently, he served as the company’s cheerleader to embrace digital distribution, first promoting sales and rentals of films on Apple’s iTunes before launching Disney Studio All Access as the company’s answer to cloud-based lockers that will enable consumers to store and access films using any device with an Internet connection.

“Bob’s vast experience, talent and proven track record will be key to implementing a consolidated approach to retail, resulting in a more efficient and effective organization,” Iger said. “As the retail market becomes more centralized, it is important to provide the consumer with an array of choices in a seamless, coordinated way.”

Chapek said, “I’m excited about the opportunity to lead our newly expanded team and to grow our brands, franchises and movie properties in the fast-changing retail and licensing marketplace.”

Disney moved quickly to fill the job after Andy Mooney resigned unexpectedly over the Labor Day weekend to pursue top management positions and board memberships at other companies. He had been with Disney for 12 years.

Mooney leaves a healthy operation in Chapek’s hands. Under his leadership, Disney’s Princess line became a $4 billion-a-year biz, and the consumer products group hauled in billions more from “Toy Story,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Cars” merchandise. Mooney revived the once-struggling Disney Stores through a redesign and launched new effort Disney English, which has helped the Mouse House increase its presence in China.

Last year the division generated revenues of $28.6 billion, more than the consumer products division at any other entertainment conglom. But the division still has room for growth, representing 6% of Disney’s bottom line during its most recent quarter, and is looking to exploit new franchises like Marvel’s lineup of superhero pics in order to do so. One new opportunity includes an “It’s a Small World” product line produced exclusively for Nordstrom based on the theme park ride.

During the company’s third quarter, which ended July 2, revenue rose 13% to $685 million, while profits were $155 million, up 32% — the largest gain at any Disney division. The “Cars 2” licensing program is the largest in the company’s history and is expected to surpass the $2.8 billion earned by “Toy Story 3.”

Given Chapek’s history in homevideo, it’s no surprise he will control how discs continue to be distributed. But he now also will release games for Disney’s interactive arm, which scored last month with top-selling licensed titles like “Lego Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension” and “Cars 2.”

The move is seen as a way to control who speaks to key retail partners like Walmart and Target for all of Disney’s merchandise lines.

Walt Disney Studios prexy Alan Bergman will now assume Chapek’s theatrical distribution duties.

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