In a Sunday night "shocker!," as Deadline described it, the board of the Walt Disney Company ousted CEO Bob Chapek and replaced the embattled leader with his predecessor Bob Iger in an effective-immediately announcement.
"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," Disney Board Chair Susan Arnold said in the company's announcement late Sunday night. "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," Arnold added.
Iger was retired for less than one year, having transitioned to executive chairman when Chapek became CEO in 2020, and departing from that role just 11 months ago after nearly five decades working his way up the ladder at the Walt Disney Company.
Iger's previous stint as CEO began in 2005 and lasted until 2020, but his return as Disney CEO is expected to be a shorter two-year gig in which he will also be focused on finding a successor who does...better than Chapek did.
"I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team," the again-CEO Iger said Sunday, "with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling."
In a tumultuous few years for the Walt Disney Company, it's hard to point to one straw that broke the camel's proverbial back under Chapek's leadership, but it's clear that he was not cutting it at the helm.
Notably, Chapek's ouster comes after Walt Disney Company picked two fights with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and lost while the the Republican sailed to a blockbuster reelection win in the midterms earlier in November.
First, by smearing DeSantis and Florida Republican legislators' parental rights legislation with falsehoods and woke activism that failed to stop the bill from becoming law. With Disney's missteps in its first losing fight against DeSantis, Disney awakened an anti-woke movement against itself and, shortly thereafter, was stripped of the sweeping autonomy its Florida properties had enjoyed for decades as special districts.
As Townhall reported in the wake of those two losses to Florida Republicans, Walt Disney Company's Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Geoff Morrell took the initial fall in April, departing after just three months running Disney's government affairs and public policy efforts that obviously did not succeed.
Shortly after Morell publicly took the fall for Disney's losses, renewed buzz about now-former CEO Bob Chapek's future within the company suggested he may be ousted and Iger may be reinstated. The "Hollywood insiders" who were talking about such an option at the end of April were apparently well connected as that's exactly what happened Sunday night following Chapek's "fumbling response" to Florida lawmakers.
Chapek also struggled with the financial side of the CEO gig, with a fourth quarter operating loss of $1.47 billion in Disney's direct-to-consumer streaming business recently posted that served as something of an exclamation point on the lack of confidence growing against him.
Meanwhile, Chapek's time leading Disney also saw him raise prices at Disney parks — both on tickets just to get inside the gates and on merchandise and food inside Walt Disney World and Disneyland — while visitor satisfaction declined as Chapek's leadership team toyed with Lightning Lanes, Disney Genie, and Disney Magic Key offerings that didn't turn the tide of guests' grumbling.
And, on a broader level, Chapek's fewer than three years running Disney also sunk the company's overall favorability among Americans. According to an NBC News poll conducted in May following Disney's two losses against Republicans in Florida — one in which mainstream pundits and Democrats foolishly claimed Disney's lobbyists would wipe the floor with DeSantis — the company's favorables dropped more than 40 points as Chapek failed to mount an effective response.
The survey found that just 33 percent of American adults had a favorable impression of the Walt Disney Company while nearly as many — 30 percent — viewed Disney unfavorably. In March 2021, another poll found that 77 percent of Americans held a "very favorable" view of Disney and just 21 percent had an unfavorable view roughly one year earlier.
Seeking to turn a new page, or perhaps to flip back a few chapters, Disney is banking on their former-turned current CEO's previous success building the company "into one of the world's most successful and admired media and entertainment companies" to again turn things around. "He expanded on Disney's legacy of unparalleled storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company's market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO," Disney's announcement noted.
Time will tell whether Iger can (again) turn things around for Disney, or if the woke discontents in its ranks will prove as difficult to wrangle as they proved to be with Chapek's now-failed attempts to hold things together. Whatever happens, the next two years will be pivotal for Disney and its future prospects under whomever Iger finds to take over for him after working to right the ship.