Bob Iger is back.
Disney, in a shocking late Sunday announcement, said it had re-appointed Iger as chief executive, effective immediately, after Iger’s handpicked successor as CEO, Bob Chapek, came under fire for his management of the entertainment giant.
“It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement — that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer,” Iger wrote to employees in an email, which was obtained by CNBC.
The dramatic upheaval comes 11 months after Iger left Disney, and days after Chapek said he planned to cut costs at the company, which had been burdened by swelling costs at its streaming service, Disney+. Earlier this month, the company’s earnings vastly underperformed Wall Street’s expectations. Even its theme park business, which reported a surge in revenue, delivered less than analysts had projected.
Iger’s return also comes as legacy media companies contend with a rapidly shifting landscape, as ad dollars dry up and consumers increasingly cut off their cable subscriptions in favor of streaming.
Iger will help the company’s board develop a new successor, Disney said in a release.
Chapek was named chief executive in February 2020, succeeding Iger, who had previously said he wouldn’t return to the role.
Shares of Disney have fallen about 41% so far this year, as of Friday’s close. The stock hit a 52-week low Nov. 9.
Iger has signed on to work as CEO for two years, Disney said Sunday, “with a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term.”
The company said Chapek stepped down. Soon after Chapek took over in 2020, Covid-19 became a pandemic and forced the shutdown of Disney’s theme parks and prevented it, for a time, from releasing movies in theaters. Nevertheless, the company’s stock soared in 2021, before crashing down to earth in recent months.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Disney’s board chair. She will remain in that role.
Chapek, whose contract as CEO was extended earlier this year, planned a hiring freeze, cost cuts and layoffs across the company, according to a memo CNBC obtained earlier this month. The internal memo came three days after the company’s poor quarterly earnings report.
Iger, who held the CEO role for 15 years at Disney, had favored Chapek as his successor. The two ultimately had a falling out, and their conflict cast a shadow over the company’s future. Chapek distanced himself from Iger with a series of decisions, including his new approach to streaming prices for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
Iger is a widely respected and liked figure at Disney. He oversaw its deals to acquire Pixar, Lucasfilm and its “Star Wars” properties, and Marvel — all of which have become multibillion-dollar intellectual property behemoths.
Chapek, meanwhile, angered employees with his initial silence about the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, where the company’s Walt Disney World resort is located. He then received blowback from Republican politicians, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for opposing it. Earlier this month, CNBC reported that Chapek had been in touch with Republican leaders in preparation for the GOP taking over the House.
Chapek also was criticized for his handling of the controversy over Scarlett Johansson’s pay for her work in the Marvel movie “Black Widow.”
Alex Sherman, CNBC
Alex Sherman covers technology, media and telecommunications for CNBC.