Change is in the air at Disney. Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that has battered much of the company’s business, longtime Disney vet Rebecca Campbell is now chairman of the streaming segment, otherwise known as direct-to-consumer and international.
Campbell’s appointment comes after Kevin Mayer, the departing streaming chief and dealmaker extraordinaire, resigned to become chief executive of the massively popular short-form video app TikTok (as well as chief operating officer of ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok). Mayer was once considered Hollywood’s top choice to succeed Bob Iger as CEO, but instead the gig went to former theme parks and cruise chief Bob Chapek. Disney’s new leader, it turns out, is well acquainted with Campbell. She most recently served as president of Disneyland Resort, reporting directly to Chapek.
Campbell is moving from the parks side of the business to streaming at a time when subscriber gains on Disney’s streaming platforms—Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu—happen to be among the few positives for the company as it navigates a crisis.
“Clearly, Ms. Campbell has the full confidence of Disney’s new CEO, and presumably also Mr. Iger and the board,” Bernstein media analyst Todd Juenger wrote in a research note.
“Her elevation is probably best described as following the ‘best available athlete’ theory of talent cultivation (as opposed to the ‘best specifically suited résumé’ theory),” he added, noting that the streaming industry’s relative newness means that “the list of ‘highly successful streaming executives’ is a very, very short list of very expensive individuals, none of whom are looking for work.”
But Disney, in Campbell’s promotion announcement, was quick to point out that she actually does have some experience on the streaming side. Prior to her role as Disneyland Resort president, she spent two years in London working as Disney’s president of the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. “She played a critical role in the launch of Disney+ globally while overseeing the EMEA region,” Chapek said in the announcement. (It’s worth noting that Campbell was named president of Disneyland in September 2019 and assumed those duties in full by November—right as Disney+ launched in the U.S., the Netherlands, and Australia, but months before it rolled out in select European countries in March.)
In addition to launch strategy, Campbell in her EMEA president role helped secure the first major distribution deal for Disney+ in the region and spearheaded the integration of 21st Century Fox with Disney’s operations in those territories. In general, she oversaw all of the region’s media, movies, and other operations with a group of 5,000 employees spread across 59 markets, with offices in 25 countries.
Throughout most of Campbell’s 23-year Disney career, however, she worked in local broadcasting. First joining the company in 1997 as vice president of programming at Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV, the local ABC affiliate, she worked her way up to president and general manager by 2003. In 2007 she moved to the same role in New York—the group’s flagship station and the nation’s largest television market—before earning a promotion in 2010 as president of ABC Owned Television Stations group. In this position she oversaw eight local TV stations—including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—and was responsible for national ABC TV sales and ABC Daytime programming. In 2017, she made the move to London.
So what challenges will Campbell now face in her new role? “She joins the business at a moment where the already thin original content pipeline has dwindled to essentially ‘nothing,’” Juenger wrote in regard to the pandemic’s impact on film and television production. “There are also vitally important strategic decisions to be made on the future of Hulu, its brand and content and differentiation strategy, the role of Hulu Live, the international rollout of Hulu, and what role ESPN+ should play in new sports rights negotiations, to name a few.”
“She will not have the luxury of time to contemplate most of these tough decisions,” Juenger added.
But Chapek is confident.
“As we look to grow our direct-to-consumer business and continue to expand into new markets, I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than Rebecca,” the chief executive said. “Her strong business acumen and creative vision will be invaluable in taking our successful and well-established streaming services into the future.”