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Fast-growing TikTok lures Disney’s Mayer to be CEO

Kevin Mayer, the new chief executive of short-form video service TikTok (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Short-form video service TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, which have seen explosive growth among young consumers, have made a major executive move, luring former Walt Disney Co. executive Kevin Mayer to be TikTok chief executive and ByteDance chief operating officer.

Mayer had been chairman of of Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international operations, and had overseen strong successes in the company’s over-the-top successes such as Disney+ and ESPN+. He also had been seen as the favorite to succeed Bob Iger as Disney chief executive, given the heavy importance of streaming to Disney’s long-term future. But that position went instead to Bob Chapek, who had been chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products, as Iger shifted to an executive chairman role.  

The 58-year-old Mayer will oversee the fast-growing TikTok, a Chinese-based platform particularly popular with younger audiences, and lead a variety of operational and corporate functions and global development for ByteDance, a Chinese tech conglomerate. Though Mayer is said to have left Disney of his own volition, the move is not surprising given he not get Iger’s prior position at the company.

“As one of the world’s most accomplished entertainment executives, Kevin is incredibly well placed to take ByteDance’s portfolio of products to the next level,” said Yiming Zhang, ByteDance chief executive.

Over the past two years, TikTok has rapidly become a key social media engagement tool for many top-tier sports entities in both the US and Europe, including the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool. The short-form platform, allowing users to post 15-second video clips often accompanied by music and video effects, have made it a highly fertile source of fan engagement, particularly with teenagers and young adults.

Arsenal was among the most recent clubs to create an account and develop content for the platform. 

“We’re intrigued and excited by TikTok’s demographics, skewing young and female, and we’re certainly seeing that with our followers and those that are engaging with the content that we’re pushing out there,” said Barbara McHugh, MLB senior vice president of marketing, last year.

Research firm SensorTower has estimated the TikTok app has been downloaded nearly 2bn times as of April, with usage continuing to accelerate during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Mayer will be succeeded at Disney by Rebecca Campbell, a 23-year veteran of the company who will now lead the direct-to-consumer and international divisions.