Ex-Disney CEO Bob Chapek “Was Not Our Friend,” Says NATO Chief

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Bob Chapek with Mickey and Minnie

Credit: Disney

Most Disney fans will agree that Bob Iger and Bob Chapek have very little in common when it comes to running Disney – and now the ​​National Association of Theatre Owners Chief has proved that Hollywood feels the same.

Former CEO Bob
Credit: Disney

Disney’s Bob v Bob scandal dates back to 2020 when Chapek was named Iger’s successor after 15 years as chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company. Fast forward to November 2022, and just 12 days after a concerningly cavalier earnings call in which Chapek revealed Disney was losing money (and stocks dropped to a two-year low), news breaks that he’s out, and Iger’s back in as CEO.

While Disney has never been out-and-out about the reasons behind Chapek’s departure, insiders have boiled it down to a few key factors. The most public: Disney’s multiple high-profile PR blunders under his rule. Think the Disney vs Scarlett Johansson lawsuit over the decision to release Black Widow (2020) on Disney+, in which the company engaged in inordinately petty warfare by revealing her salary and accusing her of “callous disregard” towards the pandemic.

scarlett johansson as natasha romanoff (left) and florence pugh as yelena belova (right) black widow on bike
Credit: Marvel Studios

Then there was Chapek’s hesitation to take a stance on Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While the company did eventually share a statement, employees found it tepid and staged protests, including walkouts, to encourage Disney to do more to protect its LGBTQIA+ employees.

And, of course, there was Chapek’s aggressive approach to boosting in-park revenue. Not only did it cost more for Guests to attend the Parks (hi, Genie+), but he dubbed its most loyal attendees, Annual Passholders, “unfavorable” due to their lower spend-per-visit.

Disney World Castle on the left and phone with Genie+ on the right
Credit: Inside the Magic

Most importantly, Disney was hemorrhaging money, and the leak came from one sector in particular: Disney+. While Chapek went all in on Disney’s new streaming platform, it seemed audiences weren’t quite there with him. The service lost Disney $4 billion in its first full fiscal year.

But it seems like Disney shareholders and audiences weren’t the only ones concerned by Chapek’s commitment to Disney+. John Fithian – the outgoing CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (also known as NATO, but not that NATO) – recently told The Wrap that Disney was not a good partner under Chapek and that it ultimately ended up damaging the box office.

“Look, Bob Chapek was not our friend. I’ll just be honest,” Fithian said. “He did not believe in the theatrical model. It was all about Disney+ and their investors were saying it was all about Disney+… until they looked at the money and suddenly Wall Street said, ‘Uh, theatrical is important.’”

bob chapek with mickey and minnie
Credit: Disney

Black Widow wasn’t the only big release to hit Disney+ during Chapek’s tenure. The service introduced a new feature, Premier Access, in which users could pay an upcharge to access new Disney movies at the same time they hit theaters. Films released via Premier Access included Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) and Jungle Cruise (2021).

While the pandemic definitely impacted Disney’s ability to release films in theaters, the company continued to shorten theatrical runs even once the box office began to pick back up. Encanto (2021) ran in theaters for just 30 days before its Disney+ debut, where it then became the fastest Disney+ title to reach 200 million hours of viewing – bolstering Chapek’s belief that a streaming model was the way forward.

Mirabel Madrigal and Isabela Madrigal holding hands during the "What Else Can I Do" Musical number on Encanto
Credit: Disney

“We do not subscribe to the belief that theatrical is the only way to build a Disney franchise,” Chapek said on an earnings call following Encanto’s Disney+ release.

Disney subsequently released Turning Red (2022) on Disney+ before pivoting back to theatrical releases towards the end of Chapek’s rule with box office bombs Lightyear (2022) and Strange World (2022).

With Iger back on top, Disney is set to release Elemental (2023) and Wish (2023) in theaters, where they’ll reportedly receive extended theatrical windows.

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