In the sort of sordid plot twist that entertainment companies typically love capitalizing on, it appears there’s more drama under the roof of the House of Mouse than originally thought.
A new and lengthy CNBC report is suggesting that a disastrous transfer of power at Disney is at the heart of many of its woes — and that a blockbuster purchase could be lurking in the shadows.
CNBC spoke to “more than two dozen people who worked closely with [current Disney CEO Bob] Iger and [former Disney CEO Bob] Chapek between 2020 and 2022” for this piece, and it paints a fascinating picture of the inner machinations of the venerable studio.
(For the unaware, Chapek replaced Iger in February of 2020, only for Iger to return and assume his old mantle in November of 2022.)
Disney, which is going through as beleaguered a period as it ever has in its storied history, appeared unable to commit to a path when it came to succeeding Iger.
“Chapek confided to a friend that his tenure at Disney was ‘about three years of hell,’ defined by one overriding theme: his unrelenting fear that Iger wanted his job back,” CNBC’s Alex Sherman wrote.
When things with Chapek soured enough (many blamed Chapek for Disney’s outsized feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis) that Iger could make his return, it was an abrupt and wholesale change.
Iger fired many of Chapek’s innermost allies from the company. Iger also tacitly acknowledged that he had come out of retirement because he considered his selection of Chapek to be his most colossal failure.
But as much public-facing drama as there appeared to be, CNBC’s report suggests that those issues run far deeper.
“Some Disney executives have privately speculated that Iger chose Chapek because he wouldn’t rival him in either charisma or celebrity — or, more cynically, because he was unlikely to eclipse Iger’s glittering record at the company,” Sherman wrote.
Perhaps one of the bigger revelations to emerge from this report is that it seemed as if Iger never really planned on riding off into the sunset during his pseudo-retirement.
“[Iger] had pegged Chapek as someone who would accept his somewhat unusual succession plan, in which Chapek would serve both as CEO and CEO-in-training while Iger remained his boss and ran ‘creative endeavors’ for 22 months as executive chairman,” the report stated.
Sherman added: “Just weeks after Iger announced his departure, Chapek began to wonder if Iger had regrets, according to people familiar with his thinking. Equally soon, Iger started to think he’d made a mistake.”
So, based on this report, it appears Iger’s specter always loomed over the media titan — regardless of Iger’s actual intent to acquiesce power.
But why? Why go through the hassle of admitting you made a mistake with your successor? Why go through the hassle of coming out of retirement? Why run the risk of spoiling your generally sterling reputation in the annals of Disney history?
To that end, CNBC posits a theory that is quickly gaining traction among “people who know things:” Iger wants to sell Disney to Apple.
This once-unfathomable scenario first began picking up steam in August, when The Hollywood Reporter first broke the news that a potential Disney sale could be closer than anyone realizes.
And now, CNBC is echoing similar sentiments.
Iger has long posited the possibility of divesting certain assets from the Disney portfolio — like ESPN, for instance — and what does divesting assets help facilitate? A sale.
“More than a dozen past and present Disney executives said privately they believe Iger’s desired end game is to stay as CEO for as long as possible and then sell the company to Apple — Iger’s ties to the tech giant date back to his close personal relationship with co-founder Steve Jobs. But it’s less clear that regulators would allow a deal — or that Apple, which has never acquired any company of significance, would even want to buy Disney,” Sherman reported.
It remains unclear just how realistic Iger’s alleged scheme actually is.
But we now have two different outlets reporting on the formerly unthinkable sale of Disney to Apple.
In the entertainment world that Disney still has quite the influence over, that’s typically described as “foreshadowing.”