Kevin Mayer has been poached by TikTok as use of the app soars during the coronavirus outbreak, positioning it as a growing threat to Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. His departure from Disney comes just three months after he was passed over for the chief executive job.
In February the company said that theme parks boss Bob Chapek would replace long-time boss Bob Iger, despite Mr Mayer overseeing the successful launch of Netflix rival Disney Plus and, before that, helping orchestrate its takeovers of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.
The 58-year-old’s appointment is a coup for TikTok, whose tremendous growth has been accompanied by concerns about its Chinese ownership.
TikTok’s short, shareable videos and addictive recommendation algorithm have made it a favourite as people are stuck at home during the pandemic, with DIY videomakers channelling free time into creating viral clips. The app has been downloaded more than 2bn times, according to independent statistics, and has sat just below Zoom at the top of smartphone app stores in recent weeks.
However, the app’s ownership by Beijing-based ByteDance, which has been accused of aiding the Chinese government’s online censorship, has raised national security concerns, with several parts of the US government banning it.
Until Mr Mayer’s appointment, TikTok had been run by Alex Zhu, a Chinese national who co-founded the app in 2014 when it was known as Musical.ly and sold it to ByteDance in 2017.
Appointing Mr Mayer, who will also become ByteDance’s chief operating officer, will help to signal that TikTok’s centre of gravity is moving to the US. The company already says that all TikTok user data is stored in the US and is not shared with China or its parent company.
Mr Mayer said: “It’s truly been a privilege for me to be part of the iconic Walt Disney Company, and I am enormously grateful to Bob Iger for his trust and confidence, and to Bob Chapek and his senior management team for their collaboration and support over the years.”
Disney said Rebecca Campbell, the president of Disneyland Resort, would replace Mr Mayer in charge of Disney’s direct to consumer business.