He helped expand Disney’s empire. Can Kevin Mayer do the same for TikTok?

Kevin Mayer <span class="copyright">(Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)</span>
Kevin Mayer (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Kevin Mayer, who led the rise of Walt Disney Co.’s streaming business and served as the architect of blockbuster deals, is leaving the company to run the fast-growing mobile video app TikTok, the company said Monday.

Mayer will become chief executive of TikTok as well as chief operating officer of its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

Mayer’s departure comes shortly after Disney’s board selected parks and products chairman Bob Chapek to succeed Bob Iger as its CEO in late February. Iger, who’d been CEO for 15 years, took on the role of executive chairman.

Many industry insiders speculated that Mayer, who was considered a candidate for the top job, would leave the company after the change in leadership. But others doubted he would leave the Burbank entertainment giant right away, given his position as arguably the most important executive in the growing streaming video space.

Mayer, 58, has led Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international segment since its inception in 2018 and oversaw the launches of ESPN+ and Disney+ along with the integration of Hulu in Disney’s business. Disney+, launched in November, has been particularly successful, growing to nearly 55 million paying subscribers globally. Disney took operational control of Hulu after acquiring Fox’s stake in the streaming pioneer.

Streaming has been a bright spot for Disney, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis that has shuttered theme parks, delayed movie releases and forced productions to pause. Last week the company raised nearly $11 billion in new debt to weather the situation.

Before his rise as streaming chief, Mayer served as Disney’s chief strategy officer and was instrumental in multiple landmark deals, including the acquisition of 21st Century Fox. He also played a key role in Disney’s acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm and streaming technology firm BamTech.

“Kevin has had an extraordinary impact on our company over the years,” Chapek said in a statement. “He has done a masterful job of overseeing and growing our portfolio of streaming services, while bringing together the creative and technological assets required to launch the hugely successful Disney+ globally.”

Mayer’s appointment could bring more legitimacy to TikTok, which secured a foothold in the U.S. by becoming especially popular among teens and is expanding to a broader audience. The app has seen a surge in use as people shelter in place and look for ways to be entertained during the coronavirus crisis. For people sequestered at home, TikTok’s endless flow of music-based user-generated videos have proved a compelling diversion.

TikTok, which recently opened a large office in Culver City, broke a record for the most app downloads in a single quarter in the first three months of 2020, according to San Francisco research firm Sensor Tower. Overall, TikTok logged more than 315 million installs in the first quarter of 2020, up 58% from the previous quarter, Sensor Tower said.

TikTok’s China ties have raised concerns about security among some politicians and privacy advocates. For example, branches of the U.S. military have banned their members from having the TikTok app on government issued phones.

Mayer will report to ByteDance Founder and CEO Yiming Zhang.

He did not respond to a request for an interview.

In Mayer, TikTok and ByteDance are getting an expert deal maker with a keen eye for the future of entertainment, said analyst Rich Greenfield of LightShed Partners.

“This is a huge coup for for TikTok and a huge loss for Disney,” Greenfield said.

To replace Mayer, Chapek turned to one of his top deputies in the parks and resorts business. Disney named Disneyland Resort President Rebecca Campbell, a 23-year veteran of the company, as its new chair of Direct-to-Consumer and International.

Disney also named Josh D’Amaro, previously president of Walt Disney World Resort, as Chapek’s replacement as chair of Disney’s parks, experiences and products segment.

D’Amaro will now be in charge of a business that, in non-pandemic times, is Disney’s largest segment, with 177,000 employees around the world. The company has not said when Disneyland, Walt Disney World or Disneyland Paris will reopen. They’ve been closed since mid-March.

Shanghai Disneyland recently reopened with limited capacity and strict social distancing and sanitation measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Chapek, in an interview with CNBC, said he was “very encouraged” by the results.

D’Amaro and Campbell will report to Chapek.

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