Kevin Mayer Says Disney Could Do Without ESPN and ABC (Video)

TheGrill 2022: “It’s hard to see a huge future for linear TV in entertainment,” the Candle Media co-CEO says

Kevin Mayer is not running Disney, and in his interview at TheGrill on Wednesday, he declined to speculate on what he would do if he were in CEO Bob Chapek’s shoes, but that didn’t stop him from weighing in on the Mouse House and the debate over whether it could get by without two of its larger brands, ESPN and ABC.

TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman asked Mayer Wednesday if Disney could “do without” both ESPN and ABC after he had raised the question as to whether either brand truly fit within the company’s portfolio.

“I think they could. Not sure they they should or will, but they certainly could,” Mayer said.

Mayer — who is now the co-CEO of Candle Media, the media company that owns Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and the Cocomelon company Moonbug Entertainment — previously was chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international division working with Bob Iger to help launch Disney+ prior to Chapek taking over as CEO. And Mayer praised Chapek’s efforts on the job, saying that he’s elevated Disney+ “in the way I would have” even after being “dealt a very difficult hand with Covid.”

But Mayer fell back on the idea that Disney’s true big brands are Marvel, “Star Wars,” Pixar and Disney itself, with a dash of 20 Century Studios’ storytelling capabilities to extend them further. Focusing even more closely on those facets of the company could still be a “huge value driver” for them moving forward, Mayer explained.

He was less optimistic however about live, linear TV and whether that means Disney should still remain in sports and ABC. It’s a debate that has picked up steam in recent months when activist investor Daniel Loeb took a .4% stake in the company earlier this year and initially advised Disney to spin off ESPN as a standalone entity, saying that it could help reduce the company’s debt, though he ultimately retracted that recommendation, and Chapek himself has doubled down on his commitment to retaining ESPN.

“I think linear TV, it’s hard to see a huge future for linear TV in entertainment,” Mayer said, explaining that when it comes to entertainment, there’s little reason to have a show that needs to air at a certain time of the evening, and entertainment should be distributed based on what the content most needs.

“You can deliver entertainment now very easily, and the whole lead-in, lead-out argument, audiences that watch one show to lead that into the next, there’s no better lead-in than a recommendation engine that really understands that person’s preferences versus he’s watching ABC at 9, so let’s get him to somewhere else at 9:30. That’s a very blunt force instrument,” he said. “For live, for sports and other things, news, things that have to be viewed in real time, totally different. But for entertainment, there’s no real time need for that.”

Read more from Kevin Mayer’s conversation at TheGrill discussing “The State of the Industry” here.

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