Disney dumps CEO after 2 challenging years, Bob Iger returns to post

The Walt Disney Company has tapped its former CEO Bob Iger to return to head the company for two years, firing his successor Bob Chapek in a move that stunned the entertainment industry.

Bob Chapek's ouster comes just over a week after disappointing earnings report

Disney Co. executives Bob Chapek, left, and Bob Iger, right, are shown during a company event marking the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Sept. 30, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press)

The Walt Disney Company has tapped its former CEO Bob Iger to return to head the company for two years, firing his successor Bob Chapek in a move that stunned the entertainment industry.

Chapek is leaving after the company posted lower than expected earnings in the last quarter. Hollywood's creative community had grumbled about Chapek's cost-cutting measures and sometimes blunt approach to talent, while theme park regulars had been unhappy with price hikes.

Disney's quarterly financial performance fell well short of Wall Street expectations on both profit and revenue, a rarity, sending shares tumbling 12 per cent. Shares of The Walt Disney Co. are down 40 per cent this year.

So, it's back to Iger.

The company's stock jumped 8 per cent at the opening bell Monday

"The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the company through this pivotal period," Susan Arnold, Disney's chairman, said in a statement.

Arnold thanked Chapek for leading the company through the pandemic, while enthusing over Iger's stature within the company, which he led for 15 years before his ouster in early 2020.

On this week's screen panel, Refinery29 editor Kathleen Newman-Bremang and entertainment reporter Teri Hart unpack Scarlett Johansson's Disney lawsuit as well as the latest controversy surrounding Matt Damon.

Iger has the "deep respect of Disney's senior leadership team," she said. She also said that he was "greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide."

"The company's robust pipeline of content is a testament to his leadership and vision," the company's statement said.

Iger said in the statement that he was "thrilled" to return and "extremely optimistic" about Disney's future.

"I am deeply honoured to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivalled, bold storytelling," said Iger, who is 71.

Hollywood, Florida controversies

Iger replaced Michael Eisner as CEO in 2005 and the former TV weather man won over Wall Street and Hollywood with bold acquisitions and public displays of respect for the creative community and the company's storied history.

During his 15 years at the helm, Disney absorbed Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel and Fox's entertainment businesses, then launched its Disney+ streaming service. The company is also the parent of ABC, ESPN and Hulu, among other properties.

After Chapek became CEO in 2020, Iger remained as chairman through 2021.

Chapek is stepping down in what has been a tough year for Disney. He faced blowback earlier this year for not using the company's vast influence in Florida to help quash a Republican bill that would prevent teachers from instructing early grades on LGBTQ issues. The bill sparked a spat between Disney and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He also was criticized for his handling of Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit last year over her pay for Black Widow, an unusually public conflict between the studio and a top Hollywood star. The 2021 Marvel film was released simultaneously in theatres and through Disney+ for a $30 rental.

Disney got into a battle with Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis over a recently passed education bill that critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law. After Disney's CEO spoke out against it, state lawmakers revoked the theme park's special tax status that it has held for more than half a century. Today on Front Burner, New York Times reporter Brooks Barnes explains how this became the latest flash point in America's ongoing culture wars.

There are reports of plans for major layoffs as the company manoeuvres to improve its profitability.

Currently, Disney+ is ad-free, but in December it will launch a new tiered service for U.S. subscribers. The basic Disney+ service that costs $7.99 US per month will run ads. A subscriber who wants no ads will have to upgrade to a premium service that starts at $10.99 per month, a 38 per cent increase over current prices.

Disney said it ended its fiscal year with more than 235 million subscribers to its streaming services. That was above analysts' expectations of 231.5 million.

Disney's share price is at about the level it was at when Iger stepped down as CEO in early 2020, closing at $91.80 on Friday. That's about half its peak of just over $200 a share in March 2021.

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