The Walt Disney Company hid something in plain sight when it promoted Bob Chapek to CEO.
At the time the paperwork revealed something that seemed insignificant back then. Now, it holds the utmost importance to several people inside and outside the company.
Yes, someone at Disney just put Bob Chapek on the clock. I’ll explain how it happened and what it all means.
Countdown to What?
The past 48 hours have reminded me of an old college film class I took. One semester, the professor detailed the significance of a timer in storytelling.
You don’t have to graduate from NYU film school to understand it, either. Have you ever watched an episode of 24? Or anything with a clock in it?
Filmmakers use timers to increase the tension for sections of a story. The clock counts down to zero, and if the hero doesn’t clip the green wire, something explodes.
Similarly, if Jack Bauer doesn’t shoot a bunch of people, the terrorists win.
Until the timer hits zero, all heroic actions are possible. But, once the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella’s ball ends, and her ride turns into a pumpkin.
At Disney, some savvy public relations person just accomplished the same thing with Bob Chapek.
In an already infamous CNBC article, the reporter reminded everyone of something we’d previously known.
Bob Chapek’s contract expires on February 28th2023. And yes, Disney had published this information literally the day that Chapek got the job.
Here’s a link to an old Hollywood Reporter article. Right there in the fifth sentence, it states: “His new contract began on Monday and ends on February 28th, 2023….”
Friends, that’s 11 months and a few days from now. In 2020, the information appeared innocent. Today, it feels…slightly sinister.
Weaponize a Date
I swear that people have mentioned this expiration date during the last two years, but infrequently.
Usually, someone has stated the timeframe as part of a broader “Bob Chapek had better…” theme.
For instance, here’s a Deadline article from January that mentions the 2023 date. The unmistakable implication is that Disney better have a strong quarter.
To Disney’s credit, it did. Chapek received most of the recognition for this performance, as many of his plans paid strong financial dividends.
Still, the tone of that article summarizes the gist of such sneaky date drops. Chapek must do better…or else!
We didn’t read many of these statements before 2022. But, alas, the tide has recently turned.
Some critics had assailed Chapek before March. However, the past two weeks have been next level in terms of negativity.
Some of the stuff I’m reading borders on character assassination. The worst part is that part of it comes from Disney employees.
By the time you read this, cast members will have staged walkouts. Here’s how it’s going for Disney:
(1/3) We have been informed that Disneyland Cast Members who do not feel safe to fully walkout tomorrow are being told they cannot even wear pride/trans Mickey pins to show support.
Standing in stark contrast to the words of “inclusion” spoken by Chapek today in the town hall.
— Disney Walkout (@DisneyWalkout) March 21, 2022
“Don’t wear the official Disney pins you bought with your own money to support your fellow workers,” is definitely not the best way to please your loyal staff.
Team Chapek has suffered through plenty of confusing headlines like this recently.
What Does This Mean?
Two weeks ago, an Orlando Sentinel promoter pointed out that Disney has financially supported all the politicians responsible for the Don’t Say Gay bill.
Since then, Chapek’s reputation has been in a downward spiral, as everything he’s done has only caused more negative headlines.
Not coincidentally, that CNBC article brought out Chapek’s final contractually stated end date.
On March 1St2023, Disney is under no obligation to employ its current CEO.
Due to this tidbit, some are weaponizing the date to point out Chapek could be on borrowed time.
Here’s the deal. Chapek recently received a glowing vote of confidence from shareholders. This vote occurred in the immediate aftermath of the bill.
Frankly, the story hadn’t blown up yet the way it has now. Chapek’s position has seemed less secure since then.
Notably, some financial writers are using that 11-month window to hint that Chapek is running out of time.
The fact that several of them have recently done so is meaningful. For whatever reason, someone wants the perception in the media that Chapek won’t be here next spring.
Is that philosophy based in fact? I don’t think so, as Chapek honestly hasn’t done enough to justify his release/non-renewal.
Yes, the past two weeks represent the low tide of his tenure. However, he’s still held Disney above water during a turbulent period.
By all rights, Chapek has earned a contract extension. Right now, he seems unlikely to get one, though.
So, the vultures have started circling in the sky. They sense weakness and have spent an outsized amount of time driving that point home.
What Happens Next?
Disney could end all this by providing Chapek another year or two on his contract. But, ultimately, that’s up to the Board of Directors.
As a reminder, Chapek sits on that board, but he answers to someone else. Susan Arnold works as the Chairperson at Disney, making her more powerful.
While the rift between former CEO Bob Iger and Chapek is an open secret by this point, we’ve heard nothing to suggest a problem between Chapek and Arnold.
In reality, the two should be in lockstep on many of Disney’s recent decisions. Chapek needs or at least desires board approval on the major choices.
If Arnold doesn’t support Chapek, she has the right to shut him down and prevent his plans from advancing.
Instead, Chapek’s Disney has evolved substantially from the Iger version of just 25 months ago.
As such, I must conclude that it is reasonable to see Chapek and Arnold as working in tandem.
As long as Chapek maintains Arnold’s support, he’s fine. However, Disney is one of the most PR-sensitive businesses on the planet.
If a sustained public outcry against Chapek persists, well, we all remember what happened with Michael Eisner.
I strongly suspect that’s why people are parroting February 28th, 2023, when they discuss Chapek. It makes him sound like his days at Disney are numbered.
Whether I agree with that or not, the reality is that it’s going to be a subject of conversation until Chapek earns a contract extension.
Alternatively, Chapek won’t remain at Disney until February of 2023.
Suppose Disney’s CEO believes he’s a lame duck. In that case, he’ll negotiate his way out of the deal early and go to a corporation that will appreciate his unmistakable business acumen.
Either way, the clock is now ticking on Chapek’s Disney tenure.
Feature Image: AP Photo/Jae C Hong