By Annabelle Liang & Lora Jones
Business reporters, BBC News
Ex-Disney boss Bob Iger is making a shock return to the firm – less than a year after he retired.
He has been brought back by the media giant to steer it through turbulent times as the share price has plummeted and Disney+ continues to make a loss.
He replaces Bob Chapek, who took over as chief executive in February 2020.
Mr Iger, who headed the entertainment giant for 15 years, told the New York Times in January it was “ridiculous” to suggest he might return.
“I was CEO for a long time,” he said. “You can’t go home again. I’m gone,” he told the newspaper.
Mr Iger, who was chairman until 2021, has agreed to stay in the job for two years, during which time he aims to find a successor to lead the company.
“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Mr Iger said.
As well as overseeing the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, Mr Iger drove major acquisitions involving the likes of animation studio Pixar, comic book company Marvel, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and Lucasfilm, the home of Star Wars.
These moves, as well as amusement park openings, helped the company’s market value increase five-fold during his time in charge.
Susan Arnold, who heads the company’s board, said in a statement that Mr Iger was “uniquely situated” to take Disney through “an increasingly complex period of industry transformation”.
But Disney shares have fallen by more than 40% this year and the company has poured billions of dollars into Disney+.
Mr Iger has replaced Mr Chapek with immediate effect.
Mr Chapek’s tenure as the boss of Disney included the shutdown of its theme parks due to Covid restrictions.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Ms Arnold said in a statement.
It came just a couple of weeks after the company said Disney+ had lost nearly $1.5bn (£1.3bn) in the three months to the end of September.
Disney now has more than 235 million subscriptions across its three streaming platforms, which include the sports-focused ESPN+ and Hulu. It has outstripped Netflix, which has about 223 million subscribers by comparison.
Mr Chapek also faced pressure, however, over his response to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In March, he apologised for his “painful silence” on the sex education bill that critics had said would isolate LGBT youth and saw him blasted by employees. Not long after Mr Chapek spoke out, Florida lawmakers passed a bill to strip Disney of its special tax status in the state, which had essentially allowed the company to control the area in Orlando where its theme parks are located.
He also fought a high-profile battle with movie star Scarlett Johansson over the release of the Black Widow film and Disney’s decision to release the Marvel superhero film on its streaming service while it was still showing in cinemas. The case was eventually settled, although details of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Walter Todd, president and chief investment officer of Greenwood Capital, told the BBC’s Today programme that the news of Mr Iger’s return was “very shocking”, but added that investors were likely to welcome it.
Disney shares jumped 8% in pre-market trade on Monday morning, after the announcement was made.
“Bob Iger is someone who’s synonymous with Disney – he oversaw some of the most successful acquisitions in the company’s history with Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm so I think there’s a fair amount of confidence in Bob in his vision for the industry,” said Mr Todd.
“But it’s not going to be an easy task. He’s got a lot of work to do to get things right and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Mr Todd said that Mr Iger’s track record at Disney was why he had such respect in the industry, but he added: “That will only get you so far, so I’ll be very interested to hear what his vision is for the company going forward.”
Even the co-chief executive of Disney rival Netflix tweeted about the move. Reed Hastings said: “Ugh. I had been hoping Iger would run for President. He is amazing.”
Mr Iger was also one of the last honorary knights to be approved by the late Queen Elizabeth II in September, for his contribution to UK-US relations.