The Walt Disney Co. just dropped a major plot twist.
The media giant announced late Sunday former CEO Bob Iger would return to the helm, replacing Bob Chapek, who took over the top executive spot more than two years ago.
Iger will serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, during which he will create a “strategic direction for renewed growth” and work to find his successor following his second stint running the company.
“I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling,” said Iger in a statement.
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Chapek was named CEO in February 2020. He has been with Disney for nearly three decades, previously serving as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products before replacing Iger.
Chapek also served as chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, during which he helped open the Shanghai Disney Resort; and introduced Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.
Chapek was the seventh CEO in Disney’s 100-plus year history.
Iger has been with Disney for more than 45 years, becoming CEO in 2005 and then chairman in 2012.
Iger’s first run as CEO is legendary for Disney. During the 15-year period, he helped close deals to acquire Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm (owners of Star Wars) and 21st Century Fox, which returned the film rights of the X-Men to Marvel.
Those acquisitions helped Disney’s streaming service Disney+ flourish as one of the top streaming media platforms. After relinquishing the CEO role to Chapek, Iger stayed on as chairman until December 2021.
“Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide – all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,” said Disney board chairman Susan Arnold in a statement.
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Chapek took over right before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it benefited Disney+, as many people stayed home and streamed movies or TV shows, the pandemic also closed down Disney parks for an extended period.
Although Disney+ has made significant subscriber gains, it’s losing money. Last quarter, Disney’s direct-to-consumer business, which includes Disney+, incurred operating losses near $1.5 billion.
Price changes for Disney+ will take effect next month. The standard plan will go up to $10.99, along with the introduction of a new, lower-cost tier with ads.
“Amidst an incredibly competitive streaming market for users’ attention and dollars, Iger’s top challenge will be to increase subscriber value without breaking the bank and compromising content quality,” said Mike Proulx, vice president and research director for Forrester.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, Disney was involved in a political feud with Florida over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would limit instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-3.
Chapek issued a statement against the bill after some employees and shareholders criticized him for staying silent.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek said earlier this year. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”
Chapek also fired Peter Rice, the chairman of Disney General Entertainment Television, among the most highly regarded television executives in the industry.
Disney shares have plunged this year from a peak of $157.83 in January to $91.80 as of Friday’s close, a 42% drop.
Iger’s annual compensation package is valued at $27 million each year he’s back, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
That includes a $1 million base salary, a $1 million target bonus and stock awards with a $25 million target value. Iger’s total compensation at the end of the year can be greater or less than the target value, depending on Disney’s performance and its stock price.
If Iger does end up with $27 million, it would be a 41% decrease versus his total compensation last year.
Iger had a $3 million base salary in fiscal 2021, which helped him reach $45.9 million in total compensation.
Chapek’s 2021 compensation totaled $32.5 million with a $2.5 million base salary.
Investors appear thrilled at Iger’s return. Shares rose more than 6% on Monday to close at $97.58.
“We believe there is little doubt that investors will applaud this move,” wrote Citi analyst Jason Bazinet. “The Street likes Mr. Iger almost as much as we do. We view his return as an unalloyed positive.”
Disney stocks had been on track for their worst yearly performance since at least the 1970s, according to Bloomberg.
Contributing: Dave Berman, Florida Today; Associated Press
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.
Disney CEO shakeup: Bob Iger returns. Here's what to know – USA TODAY
The Walt Disney Co. just dropped a major plot twist.