TikTok, the ultra-popular short-form video app, has hired a top Walt Disney DIS Co. executive to be its new CEO.
Kevin Mayer, who ran Disney’s video-streaming business, will also serve as the chief operating officer of ByteDance, the Chinese-owned parent company of TikTok. Mayer was seen as a favorite to get the top job at Disney but was passed over to replace Bob Iger in favor of Bob Chapek earlier this year.
“Kevin has had an extraordinary impact on our company over the years,” Chapek said in a statement. “Having worked alongside Kevin for many years on the senior management team, I am enormously grateful to him for his support and friendship.”
Disney has been badly damaged by the pandemic as Covid-19 forced it to close its lucrative parks and cruise line businesses. Iger has taken back some control over the company—he remains the executive chairman—while Disney rushed to assemble a $6 billion debt offering in March. It has furloughed workers and cut pay with Chapek agreeing to halve his salary and Iger agreeing to forgo one entirely.
Mayer could not be leaving for a more different environment. TikTok was already a big hit before lockdown—and has seen its popularity soar since. It was downloaded more than 315 million times in the first quarter, according to data from SensorTower, which tracks app downloads. That figure represents the most downloads in a single quarter that SensorTower has ever counted up.
Mayer was the deals guy at Disney, acquiring Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Fox. And there was nothing more important to Disney recently than the expansion of its streaming business, which has proven a success. Disney+ launched last year and was downloaded 14.1 times in 2019, more than even Netflix NFLX (11.9 million) or Hulu (8.1 million). Disney said it would spend $1 billion in the first year alone on original content for the streaming service, building out a line-up that already includes the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and soon a recorded version of the musical Hamilton.
Mayer will face some challenges ahead at TikTok. It has become an off-and-on-again target of criticism that its Chinese ownership makes it a security risk. And a group of 20 advocacy groups last week filed an FTC complaint that it hadn’t lived up to a deal reached with regulators last year to better protect children using its app.