Kevin Mayer has moved on from the top job at Disney’s streaming unit to become the CEO of social-media sensation TikTok.
No one should be surprised by the departure.
The clock started ticking on Mayer’s time at Disney the second he was passed over as the successor to Bob Iger in favor of Bob Chapek for the CEO job at Disney. Whether or not it was fair to assume that job was his, the conventional wisdom certainly had it that his success in streaming was a stepping stone to replace Iger. The perception was thus that he was snubbed, which made his departure from Disney just a matter of time. If there’s any room for surprise here, it’s that Mayer managed to leave as quickly as he did.
TikTok CEO may be one of the few jobs better than being Disney CEO.
While even in the beleaguered mode Disney finds itself in now, running that company is a pretty plum job, it’s no match for taking the helm at the global phenomenon that is TikTok. Mayer is strapping himself to a rocket ride that just seems to have reached the stratosphere. The growth trajectory, particularly among younger demographics, that this brand is on stands in stark contrast to the diminished prospects traditional media companies like Disney are facing. While Mayer was presiding over the sole bright spot—Disney Plus—at Disney during a time when the pandemic is severely testing just about every other part of its business, COVID-19 has only been a boon to TikTok so far.
Just imagine what Mayer could bring to TikTok.
Overlook the obvious presumption here: TikTok is probably not going to turn into some kind of Disney Plus rival. The streaming wars have enough combatants, thank you very much, and even the table-stakes cost for content is prohibitive. But even if parent company ByteDance had all the money in the world to start loading up on original or licensed series or movies, that would represent a fundamental misread of what TikTok is as the home of a short-form content style totally unique to its platform.
No, what Mayer brings to TikTok is the ability to strategize the next phase of revenue growth for the platform in configurations that may represent an expansion of how TikTok is currently constituted and architect the big, transformative deals necessary to execute on that strategy. That doesn’t mean TikTok is buying Disney, but it does mean ByteDance can morph in all kinds of interesting ways that aren’t readily apparent; think, for instance, how Facebook became a bigger, entirely different entity by swallowing up Instagram, What’sApp, Oculus. If Mayer was at TikTok six months ago, maybe TikTok would have been a better home for recent Facebook acquisition Giphy, for instance.
Nevertheless, he’ll also have an even more important task ahead: help navigating the regulatory scrutiny the company is attracting. Without some movement there, Mayer may not be free and clear to execute.
Don’t assume Disney streaming is now doomed.
Odds are Disney saw this departure coming a mile away; note the company was ready to elevate Rebecca Campbell to replace Mayer as chairman of direct to consumer and international. Though when a star player like Mayer exits a streaming outfit like Disney Plus, it’s tempting to conclude that’s damaging, this new streaming service is already off and running with a clear strategy. A responsible steward just needs to keep it on the a predetermined path, which isn’t easy to do, but it’s not as difficult as blazing a new path forward.