Longtime Disney strategy executive Kevin Mayer may have just become the heir apparent to CEO Bob Iger. That’s one of the takeaways from a management reorganization outlined on Wednesday. The other is that Jimmy Pitaro, who last week was named to run ESPN, got less of a promotion than first appeared. Mayer now oversees direct to consumer businesses and international. Included in that is ESPN’s planned streaming service and ESPN’s global ad sales. That implies Pitaro will deal with the sports leagues and the cable operators—the two toughest parts of ESPN—while Mayer oversees the more interesting path to the future in the streaming service.
Things could play out very differently, of course. Mayer doesn’t have an operating background. Instead, as Disney noted, he has overseen the string of acquisitions done by the company in recent years, including of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel as well as the pending Fox deal. Whether he can make the transition to operating will be crucial in determining how much of a contender he really can be to succeed Iger. Meanwhile, the reorg puts consumer products under head of parks Bob Chapek. That makes it look like Iger is pitting Mayer against Chapek in the CEO succession race (with Pitaro on the fringes). Given that none of these executives have extensive experience in film and television, the core of Disney, it’s easy to see a scenario where Iger tells Disney’s board in two years that there’s no good candidate to succeed him and he needs to stay (another) two years.