Teenagers may not know the name Kevin Mayer, but he’s about to play an outsize role in their lives.
The longtime veteran of the Walt Disney Company just became the CEO of TikTok. In doing so, Mayer will take the reins of an app whose bedazzling hold over Gen Z has made it one of the most influential, albeit controversial, platforms of the COVID-19 era.
Mayer has been with Disney since the early 1990s—minus a stint as the CEO of Playboy.com and other ventures—and he’s helped shepherd along the acquisition of some of its most consequential brands, including Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.
More recently he’s become known for his pivotal role in the launch of the all-important Disney Plus streaming service. Mayer was thought to be among the most obvious potential successors to outgoing CEO Bob Iger, but he was passed over for Bob Chapek, who ran Disney’s theme parks unit.
Mayer’s departure from Disney may not be a surprise, but his move to TikTok is unexpected. The app, owned by China-based ByteDance, is at a crucial moment in its short history—seeing enormous growth during the pandemic lockdowns but facing increasing criticism over its data-collection practices, particularly as they relate to its young users. As it rises in influence, the company will surely face a growing drumbeat of intense media and regulatory scrutiny.
In contrast, Disney has never been more vulnerable, with the coronavirus pandemic having ravaged nearly all of its core business units, from the shuttering of theme parks and movie theaters to ongoing interruptions to its production schedules. Mayer, whatever else is motivating the move, is jumping ship at an opportune time.
According to The New York Times, Mayer will be replaced by Rebecca Campbell, a rising star at the company who most recently served as president of Disneyland.