The story has worked. Disney racked up a whopping 28.6 million paying Disney+ subscribers in its first three months. And its multiple has crept higher — not Netflix high, but higher than its media peers. Disney's forward price-to-earnings ratio is now close to 21. Netflix's is 43. For comparison, ViacomCBS' is about 4.
That's why Tuesday's announcement that Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, is taking over as CEO for Bob Iger is surprising and confusing. Disney's future is supposed to be streaming — not theme parks. Media industry insiders almost unanimously expected Kevin Mayer to be Iger's heir. Mayer has been running Disney's streaming services as the company's chairman of direct-to-consumer and international.
Investors were not impressed, sending Disney's stock down about 2% after hours.
It's possible Iger had picked Chapek as the next CEO years ago. He said Tuesday he had "identified Bob quite some time ago as a likely successor."
But choosing the guy who runs parks over the guy who runs streaming is odd because of the signal it sends to investors. Disney is supposed to be a high-flying technology-based streaming company now. The strategy is working. Not rewarding Mayer, who has spent more than two decades at Disney, is odd.
Iger isn't going anywhere. He will remain Chapek's boss as chairman of the board and, in an unusual move, will "continue to direct the company's content creation." Iger said himself the reason for this change was to "free me up to focus on the creative side."
So will Iger's focus continue to be streaming? Does that effectively split Disney into two pieces — Iger leading content and Chapek everything else? And what does that mean for the future of Disney?
There may be more clarity in the coming days. But on the surface, it's a huge twist in the story Disney has been telling. And if there's one thing Disney knows, it's storytelling.
Correction: An earlier version misstated when Iger said he had identified Chapek as a likely successor. It was Tuesday.