The news that lit the entertainment news industry world on fire. Sunday, November 20: Bob Chapek stepped down (or was removed) as Disney's CEO, and in an unexpected move, Bob Iger is back in charge.
Leaving the speculation aside, what's been clear since this news broke was that Disney's board of directors was not happy with Chapek's performance since becoming Disney's CEO in early 2020.
One thing is also clear - changes will be made. This leadership switch-up isn't just to help public perception (as many celebrated this decision), it's to steer the company in a new direction that is both profitable and pleasing to loyal customers.
Having been the CEO when Disney bought Marvel, Bob Iger was an integral part of its success over the past decade. Since his departure from the House of Mouse, Marvel Studios President (under Chapek as CEO) has released seven live-action MCU series, two Special Presentations, and a controversial day-and-date release of Black Widow on Disney+ and in theaters.
Marvel Studios remains one of Disney's most successful entities, so Iger's upcoming challenge will be to reshape the company going forward, which will result in varying effects on the MCU.
Rethinking Series, Films, and Special Presentations
Disney's streaming business, including Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+, lost the company $1.5 billion during the third quarter.
Bob Chapek invested a lot into the streaming service, greenlighting numerous streaming movies and series while CEO. Most controversially, Pixar films Soul, Luca, and Turning Red were released exclusively on Disney+ in North America.
This made Chapek unpopular amongst Pixar fans, while further solidifying the idea that direct-to-consumer content is the way of the future. However, it is not a profitable business; Despite Chapek continually stating that the streamer would be turning a profit by 2024, the spending has been outrageous compared to other elements of the company.
During 2022's San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige re-inforced Marvel's devotion to streaming. The Marvel head promoted six upcoming series releasing in 2023 and 2024, including Secret Invasion, Echo, Loki Season 2, Ironheart, Agatha: Coven of Chaos, and Daredevil: Born Again.
These projects are expensive, with early reports indicating that Disney may spend roughly $25 million per episode on a Marvel show. Unlike a wide-release film, money isn't technically being made on these series. Disney+ may grow in subscribers (a major key to streaming success) but the continual production costs are adding up.
The aforementioned Phase 5 shows are probably safe, but 2025 and beyond may see Disney decide to greenlight fewer Marvel shows depending on how much money the streamer continues to lose. A key factor in eventual profitability is price.
Disney+ is changing its pricing model on December 8. An ad-supported version of Disney+ will be $8 a month and the ad-free version will be $11 a month or $110 a year.
All things considered, don't be surprised if Marvel Studios' production of Disney+ series does slow down. Iger could make the decision to reduce original productions solely made for the streamer.
In Phase 4, there were ten streaming projects and seven theatrical releases (including Black Widow). With Disney+ currently draining the company, expect Iger to address his time back leading the House of Mouse.
Relationships with Creators
Bob Iger is known for his relationships with talent. It was on full display when Spider-Man nearly left the MCU and Tom Holland reached out to Iger personally, eventually leading to Disney and Sony Picture re-negotiating a deal.
The buzz around Disney has been Chapek isn't as friendly and well-liked amongst talent and creators. Look no further than the Scarlett Johansson situation, after the actress/executive producer was against a streaming day-and-date release she sued the company.
Kevin Feige was reportedly "angry and embarrassed" after pushing "against the day-and-date plan" for Black Widow's release. A rough start for Chapek as this was the first MCU project released under his leadership.
Continuing the trend, Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu was upset by the then-CEO's comments calling the film "an interesting experiment."
A quick adjustment Iger made was putting the power back with the creators. Chapek had realigned the structure, having studios go though Kareem Daniel, the former head of its Media and Entertainment Distribution division. Daniel has now been let go as Iger wants to instill "...a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs..."
An even more dramatic rumor swirled on The John Campea show, indicating that Disney creative executives (including Feige) may have given the company an ultimatum that led to Chapek's firing.
Nevertheless, creative executives, producers, directors, and actors at Marvel will likely rejoice at the idea of having more power and control over their projects. Iger is putting an emphasis on pleasing creators with the hope of continual growth and working relationships to create the greatest possible movies, TV shows, etc.
One thing Disney lacks is the movie rights to Marvel's most iconic character: Spider-Man.
Spider-Man's Uncertain Future
In 2015, an unprecedented deal was struck between Bob Iger (Disney CEO) and Tom Rothman (Sony Pictures Chief) to bring Peter Parker into the MCU for the very first time.
Tom Holland was cast, made his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War and the rest is history. In collaboration with the two studios, Holland's Spider-Man appeared in two Avengers movies that both grossed over $2 billion and starred in two solo films that grossed over $1 billion. Spider-Man: No Way Home not only being the highest-grossing film since 2020 but the third-highest-earning film domestically ever.
The mission has been a massive success, especially for Sony, which was a studio that struggled through the early 2010s with consistent box office failures, and its most valuable character (Spidey) coming up short of MCU-like theatrical performances.
Despite the great success, it hasn't always been champagne popping between the studios. The aforementioned brief split between the studios that would've pulled Holland's Peter Parker out of the MCU was in many ways the best example of Iger's relationship with talent.
Holland called Iger while at a pub back in 2019, seeing if there was any way Spidey could continue his journey within the MCU, under the Disney banner. Ultimately this led to Sony and Disney working out a new deal that saw Marvel Studios receive roughly 25% of the profits while putting up about 25% of costs.
The initial reasoning for the short-lived break-up was that Disney/Marvel wanted to receive 50% of the Spider-Man film earnings (the original 2015 deal was a simple character-sharing arrangement where Disney earned $0 from any solo Spidey films.)
Fast-forward to 2022, after the greatest success between the two studios (No Way Home) and another new deal may be in the works.
Rumors have been spiraling that a new deal may already be done, agreeing to Tom Holland returning as Peter Parker in another trilogy under both Disney/Marvel and Sony Pictures.
While that rumor remains to be confirmed, it's safe to assume nothing yet is set in stone. Iger returning as CEO will likely only help this situation (if there are currently any negotiating hold-ups). The 71-year-old has been present during all Sony/Disney negotiations and has expressed (along with Kevin Feige) the desire to keep Spider-Man swinging the streets of New York with the other Marvel characters owned by Disney.
In the end, Iger has bigger problems to deal with than Marvel, a theatrical and streaming powerhouse, oozing with thousands of possible characters to introduce and flesh out. Nevertheless, re-organizing the current streaming structure, working closely with creators, and ensuring Spider-Man's future in the MCU are all critical elements of Iger's re-gained position.