Kevin Mayer, the executive who spearheaded the Disney+ launch, has left Disney to join ByteDance as the CEO of TikTok. With this move, Alex Zhu, the current president of TikTok, will assume the role of ByteDance’s VP of product & strategy.
In 2018, when Disney started its direct-to-consumer & international unit, Mayer became its head and began working on the company’s streaming services. Apart from launching Disney+, he helped the company launch ESPN+, and was a key part in acquiring 21st Century Fox, which made Disney a majority stakeholder in Hulu and India’s Hotstar.
Mayer was touted to become the company’s CEO. However, when Bob Iger left the firm earlier this year, he bypassed Mayer and handed over the crown to Bob Chapek, who was the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.
In a statement, Mayer said he has been impressed by TikTok and he’s excited to help lead the next phase of the journey:
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join the amazing team at ByteDance. Like everyone else, I’ve been impressed watching the company build something incredibly rare in TikTok – a creative, positive online global community – and I’m excited to help lead the next phase of ByteDance’s journey as the company continues to expand its breadth of products across every region of the world.
As I begin a new chapter, I’m humbled by the trust Yiming and the board have placed in me as we move forward with a shared vision of how to scale ByteDance’s growth.
For TikTok, this is a good match. While TikTok videos are different from Disney’s long-form streaming content, Mayer’s experience might come handy when it comes to striking content partnership deals.
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The ByteDance-owned service has gained tremendous popularity all over the world. However, it’s also been a controversy magnet. Folks in the US have asked for the app’s ban several times. Last year, the US Navy banned it because it believed the app could be a ‘cybersecurity threat.’ In February, Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, said, “TikTok is spyware.”
Last year, the US government launched a national security investigation against the app to look into concerns over personal data collection and censoring politically sensitive content. Earlier this year, Republican Senator Josh Howly wanted the app to be banned from devices of federal employees. Last week, twenty advocacy groups in the US accused TikTok of violating child privacy regulations.
Given this kind of unrest, having an American CEO could be beneficial for Bytedance’s international image. For now, TikTok is keeping its China operations separate from global operations. All regional heads from its global operations will report to Mayer.
Given TikTok’s popularity, growth might not be a worrisome factor for the new CEO. However, he has a tough task of putting lawmakers at ease in the US and in tricky markets such as India.