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How Rebecca Campbell Rose From Local TV to Become Disney’s New Streaming Boss

Rebecca Campbell Disney Direct to Consumer
Courtesy of Disney

To outsiders, Disneyland Resort president Rebecca Campbell was a surprise choice to succeed Kevin Mayer as chairman of Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International.

To Disney insiders, the timing of the shake-up in Mayer’s division was unexpected when the news hit after the stock market closed May 18. But the selection of Campbell for the high-profile job overseeing Disney’s global streaming efforts and all international operations was hardly a shock: The executive has quietly been on the move at Disney for some time.

“She’s tenacious and she’s a great executive,” says Anne Sweeney, former president of Disney/ABC Television Group, who worked closely with Campbell for years. “She’s a strong and thoughtful manager who really knows her [executive team] and their strengths and weaknesses.”

Mayer’s move to leave Disney and become CEO of buzzy social media platform TikTok would have been a natural opportunity to restructure the management of Disney’s streaming portfolio under the Media Networks wing led by co-chairs Peter Rice (also chairman of Walt Disney Television) and Jimmy Pitaro (also president of ESPN).

The Direct-to-Consumer & International unit was established in May 2018 as Disney was gearing up to launch Disney Plus and preparing for the integration of 21st Century Fox. But CEO Bob Chapek’s move to promote Campbell affirms the existing structure despite some questions about the effectiveness of separating streaming distribution from the content production group.

Unlike Mayer, who came out of the business development side, Campbell has operational experience. She ran the ABC Owned Television Stations Group from 2010 to 2017. Over the past three years, Campbell has had a whirlwind tour of Disney operations. In 2017 she was dispatched to London to serve as president of Disney’s Europe, Middle East and Africa business. Last September, she shifted gears to become president of Disneyland Resort, overseeing Disneyland and California Adventure under then-Disney parks chief Chapek, who was promoted to succeed Bob Iger as Walt Disney Co. CEO in February. (Disney declined to make Campbell available for an interview.)

That kind of movement for an executive is a clear sign of someone being groomed for a larger role. And today, there’s hardly a more crucial job within the vast Disney empire than steering the growth of Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu and India’s Hotstar.

“She’s one of [Chapek’s] lieutenants,” says Morningstar senior equity analyst Neil Macker. “I think it’s a positive they could get somebody like her to run things.”

Regarding Mayer’s exit, “from the Disney point of view, it’s a loss of a talented executive — there’s no way around it,” Macker says. He adds that Disney management couldn’t have been surprised he left following Chapek’s promotion, given that he was passed over for the CEO job, but that his exit was likely a bit quicker than expected.

Campbell, however, has been readied for a larger corporate role. She was closely involved in the planning for the Disney Plus rollout in Europe and other overseas territories.

In the near term, Campbell is unlikely to make any significant changes to DTCI’s road map or strategy, analysts say. Through the second half of 2020, Disney Plus is scheduled to continue rolling out through Western Europe, Japan and Latin America. “For now, her job is to keep the train running,” Macker says. “With the strength of Disney Plus, it’s going to be on [Campbell] to continue the forward momentum.” He predicts that Campbell and other Disney top brass may reassess the structure of the business toward the end of 2021.

Campbell’s roots in local broadcasting run deep. She got her start working in programming and production at TV stations in Pennsylvania: WFMZ-TV in Allentown and WGAL-TV in Lancaster. She joined Disney in 1997 as VP of programming for ABC’s Philadelphia O&O, WPVI-TV.

Scott Koondel, former chief corporate content licensing officer for CBS Corp., recalls being impressed by Campbell when he made syndication sales pitches to her in her WGAL-TV days. “She is a great leader — people like working with her,” Koondel says. And after so many years in the Disney fold, “she really understands the Disney consumer.”

Campbell rose to become president and general manager of WPVI in 2003. Four years later, she was elevated to lead ABC’s New York flagship, WABC-TV. Sweeney recalls that one of Campbell’s first moves after taking the reins of WABC was to tear down the wall that for decades separated the station’s operations from the rest of Disney-ABC’s New York City headquarters in Lincoln Square — literally.

“I’ll always remember her as the woman with the sledgehammer who made that bold decision,” Sweeney says.