Bob Iger signaled a lot about Disney’s future in that CNBC interview from Sun Valley, including that he’s open to selling linear TV networks and that he’s hunting for a strategic partner for ESPN. What Iger didn’t mention is that he’s enlisted two of his former right-hand men to help in that endeavor. I’m told that Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs have both been engaged individually by Disney to consult with Iger, ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro, and others on the future of the linear properties and how they intersect with Disney’s streaming strategy. Disney and a rep for Mayer and Staggs declined to comment.
This news will no doubt fire up Disney-watchers because Mayer and Staggs were both positioned previously as Iger successors and have been mentioned as possible C.E.O.s when (if?) Iger finally abdicates the Mouse Throne in 2026. Remember, Mayer was an architect of Disney’s big-ticket M&A portfolio and its direct-to-consumer strategy before bolting for TikTok in 2020; Staggs was Iger’s C.F.O., parks chief and C.O.O. before being passed over for the top job and leaving in 2016.
It’s also interesting because Candle Media, the Blackstone-backed content roll-up company that Mayer and Staggs launched in 2021 and still run, has been acquiring Disney-friendly content studios, including Moonbug Entertainment, purveyor of YouTube and Netflix kids’ sensation Cocomelon, as well as Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Who knows, maybe Iger would even buy Moonbug or all of Candle and bring Mayer and Staggs into the company with it, though Disney doesn’t seem to be in I.P.-acquisition mode these days and Candle’s thesis has come under scrutiny.