The search to replace Disney CEO Bob Iger has officially begun with a short list that includes some usual suspects and a candidate from the world of sports, according to FOX Business.
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, is a leading candidate to replace Iger as CEO when he retires in two years, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Other top contenders on the list include Dana Walden, co-chairman of Disney entertainment, and Kevin Mayer, former Disney executive, CEO of short video app TikTok and now founder and CEO of Candle Media.
Iger, 72, is widely regarded as one of the most successful media executives in the business’s astonishing string of blockbuster programs and record earnings for investors while expanding Disney’s theme park footprint worldwide.
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After a 24-year tenure at the House of Mouse, he retired in 2021 to return for a second time as CEO following the departure of Bob Chapek.
Chapek, also a longtime Disney executive, has been ousted of late amid mounting business challenges, particularly the company’s streaming strategy and a nasty political battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis over the state’s sex education law.
Silver, though a seemingly unlikely candidate to run the world’s largest media company, has a longstanding relationship with both Iger and Disney.
Silver’s job as head of the NBA means he does a lot of work with ESPN, Disney’s flagship cable sports network. Prior to becoming commissioner, Silver spent eight years as president and CEO of NBA Entertainment.
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A Disney spokesman declined to comment, but did not deny the existence of a short list to replace Iger. Through a spokesman, Walden declined to comment. An NBA spokesman declined to comment. A representative for Mayer did not return calls for comment.
News of Disney’s shortlist including Silver’s inclusion was first reported Friday on Fox Business’ Claman Countdown.
Since returning as CEO, Iger himself has come under pressure from activist investors trying to boost Disney’s stock price, which has fallen 24% in the past year compared with a drop of just 3% for the Standard & Poor’s 500. shares of the company.
Disney’s business model for theme parks and various forms of entertainment programming has struggled in recent years amid the global pandemic and difficulty generating consistent revenue through video streaming
Nelson Peltz’s Trian Management, which owns $900 million in Disney stock, launched a proxy battle – since dissolved – with Iger, demanding a board seat, reductions in executive compensation, cost cuts and possibly the sale of ESPN.
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Peltz ended his battle after Iger announced a massive restructuring of Disney’s various businesses, including layoffs, and reiterated his intention to retire in two years.
Talk of Silver possibly taking over as chairman could mean Disney will keep ESPN, its $50 billion sports network, as Silver’s relationship with the network is strong.
“It’s an unusual choice, as Disney is usually run by people who know the entertainment industry,” said an executive at a major sports franchise who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While running the NBA, Silver is at the helm of a business that generates $10 billion in revenue annually. Disney’s revenue exceeded $80 billion in 2022. But running a sports league requires skillful management, given the various political pressures involved, dealing with the various personalities that own the teams, as well as the entertainment side of the game.
Under Silver, the NBA has increased profitability, making most of its money through the sale of its game rights to the networks, the sale of its merchandise and, of course, ticket sales.
The league has expanded like communist China, which has been controversial as well as profitable.
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Silver is said to have played a key role in getting Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling kicked out of the league after he made racist comments.
It’s unclear whether any of the candidates have the inside track on Iger’s job, and other candidates may emerge.
People inside Disney tell Fox Business that other possible internal candidates include Alan Bergman, the other co-chairman of entertainment, Josh D’Amaro, the president of parks and resorts, and Jimmy Pitaro, the president of ESPN.
But at least for now, Silver, Mayer and Walden appear to have the strongest hands in the race to replace Iger.
Mayer, for his part, was Disney’s former president of direct-to-consumer operations. He is a longtime media executive who was responsible for the launch of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu+ during his tenure at the company.
He left Disney to become the CEO of TikTok and the CEO of China-based holding company ByteDance in May 2020.
Just months later he abruptly quit the short video app company as it came under pressure from the Trump administration to cut ties with China-based Bytedance over spying concerns.
He now owns and runs Candle Media, a media company that Disney is rumored to be interested in buying.
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Walden, meanwhile, has vast experience in media and entertainment, including 25 years at 21st Century Fox. She was CEO of Fox Television Group, which was once affiliated with Fox Business before its sale to Disney in 2019.
During Walden’s tenure, Fox won hundreds of Emmys and many other awards.