Iger Succession Setbacks & Elon’s Debt Nosedive

Candle Media co-founders and former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs. Photo: Greg Doherty/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
October 8, 2023

There was more than a bit of schadenfreude circulating on Wall Street this week over the fate of Candle Media, the Blackstone-backed entertainment company led by former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, which is expected to earn about 50 percent less than predicted in 2023, according to our friend Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg. Candle, you’ll recall, launched with billions of dollars in dry powder to scoop up promising content studios, which it did with abandon—paying exorbitant, top-of-the-market prices for stakes in Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Moonbug Entertainment, among others—right before the entire Hollywood ecosystem hit the rocks. 

I’m most interested in what this means for the dynamic duo of Mayer and Staggs, who are also consulting for Bob Iger and have been considered potential successors at Disney once Iger steps down in 2026. Alas, and despite the vote of confidence from Blackstone, I don’t see how Steve Schwarzman allows Mayer and Staggs to do anything but focus on Candle from here on out. If it were me, that would mean the end of this little excursion the two men have been on to Disney World. If you want to play around and consult with Iger about partners for ESPN, then get the EBITDA for Candle back to the $330 million Blackstone was expecting for 2023.

Of course, it is also possible, as I have suspected all along, that Iger and Schwarzman have an agreement that Disney will buy Candle, or some of its assets, at some point in the next few years, if for no other reason than to get Mayer and Staggs back into the Disney succession discussion. Indeed, it’s always been my contention that a potential deal for Candle is the only plausible explanation for why Steve is allowing them to work for Iger on the side—especially when, as my partner Dylan Byers reported last month, they’re consulting on divisions across the company, including ESPN and even Hotstar, in India. (Their whole consulting arrangement, as you know, was first revealed by my other partner, Matt Belloni.)