No sooner did Walt Disney announce that Bob Chapek was stepping down as Disney CEO and Bob Iger was returning to the role he held for 15 years, Chapek’s key soldier, Kareem Daniel, was also shown the door.
Daniel, who was controversially plucked from the consumer products and games division in October 2020 to run the newly created Media and Entertainment Distribution group, is on his way out as well, the news was announced to employees via a memo from Iger on Monday.
Daniel’s ascension was seen as a reward for a longtime ally, chosen by Chapek to serve as an intern while the engineering student was working on his MBA at Stanford. The biggest change was the combination of distribution and ad sales teams, which were both led by Daniel. Chapek’s major structural change during his tenure was to divide Disney’s content development into three groups with studios, general entertainment and sports being kept separate from distribution.
This was meant to explicitly place Disney+ at the center of the Walt Disney entertainment universe.
Known internally as “DMED,” Daniel’s team was in charge of the operation of Disney’s streaming services and TV networks, in addition to profit-and-loss management and all distribution, operations, sales, advertising, data and technology functions of all Disney content. That essentially made the now 48-year-old executive, who has worked for Disney since the mid-2000s, head of the entire business side of Disney content.
At the time, the reorganization handed immense power to an executive who began his career as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs and who had no experience in creating content. It has also created internal tension, notably with now-departed Peter Rice, who was removed as the chairman of general entertainment content in June of this year.
“Kareem Daniel now runs the business,” noted a former Disney executive back in October 2021, speaking on condition of anonymity, in previous conversations with TheWrap. “Kareem is Chapek’s guy.”
And now that Chapek is out, it’s little surprise that his prized pupil, an engineer-turned corporate honcho, is exiting as well. What this means beyond the removal of Chapek leading to the exit of his key enforcer can currently only be speculated upon.
Expectations are that Iger will undo many of Chapek’s structural changes, including the controversial siloing. Daniel’s exit seems to further imply that. However, many of the issues besetting Disney in 2022 — a reliance on long-existing franchises, challenges with creating new-to-cinema IP, a reliance on generational nostalgia, the balance between streaming and theatrical, etc. — were in play when Iger took his victory lap in 2019.
Shareholders are hopeful that, at least in the short term, the mere return of the popular and well-liked (especially among the talent) head honcho will itself be seen as a strong move to stop the stock price bleeding. Whether Iger can stem the tide, even with many of the issues besetting Disney (and the entertainment industry as a whole) still in play, remains to be seen.
Read Bob Iger’s full memo announcing Daniel’s exit below.
Dear DMED Employees,
As we embark on the transformative work that I mentioned to you in my email last night, I want to begin by offering my sincere appreciation and gratitude to each and every one of you.
Over the coming weeks, we will begin implementing organizational and operating changes within the company. It is my intention to restructure things in a way that honors and respects creativity as the heart and soul of who we are. As you know, this is a time of enormous change and challenges in our industry, and our work will also focus on creating a more efficient and cost-effective structure.
I’ve asked Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Christine McCarthy to work together on the design of a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs, and this will necessitate a reorganization of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. As a result, Kareem Daniel will be leaving the company, and I hope you will all join me in thanking him for his many years of service to Disney.
Our goal is to have the new structure in place in the coming months. Without question, elements of DMED will remain, but I fundamentally believe that storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the center of how we organize our businesses.
This is a moment of great change and opportunity for our company as we begin our second century, and I am so proud to be leading this team again. I can’t say it enough: I’m incredibly grateful for the tremendous work you do each day, and for your commitment to maintaining the level of excellence Disney has always been known for.
I know change can be unsettling, but it is also necessary and even energizing, and so I ask for your patience as we develop a roadmap for this restructuring. More information will be shared over the coming weeks. Until a new structure is put in place, we will continue to operate under our existing structure. In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and thank you again for all you do.