In a stunning move Sunday night, Disney’s board of directors approved bringing back former executive chair and CEO Bob Iger for a two-year period as CEO, replacing Bob Chapek, who will be leaving the company after many years in various capacities there.

Chapek was, perhaps, best known in consumer electronics circles as the head of Disney’s home entertainment division during the transition from DVDs to Blu-ray Discs, when he helped push Blu-ray to a win for industry standardization over the rival HD-DVD format.

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“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. “The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the company through this pivotal period.”

As Disney’s CEO the past three years in the age of Covid-19, Chapek has been challenged with a number of political controversies including a public legal fight with Black Widow star Scarlett Johnasson, and his decision not to take action on a Florida law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to restrict classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

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Iger, who spent more than four decades at the company, including 15 years as its CEO, was publicly vocal in his opposition to the Florida measure. He reportedly will be coming back with a mandate to set a new strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the board in developing a successor to take over at the end of his period.

Iger returns in the midst of a intense battle for Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) market share, in which the company’s Disney+, hulu and ESPN+ platforms have made significant subscriber gains., against the likes of Apple TV+, Paramount+, Peacock, Amazon Prime and Netflix.

According to reported new data from Ampere Analysis, if the currently separate Walt Disney Co. streaming services Disney+ and hulu were combined the resulting platform would hold the largest share of the 100 most popular titles of any U.S. SVoD service.

Together, the two services would have approximately 30% share, out distancing Netflix’s 23%, the report shows. Among some of the most popular titles in the combined libraries are multiple hits from Disney’s Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm catalogs and various hulu original productions including Only Murders in the Building and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Hulu is currently 67% owned by Disney and 33% owned by Comcast. The two media behemoths are looking to reach an agreement on a sale by January 2024. However, Disney is reportedly looking to close the deal and take a 100% stake even sooner, which would enable a combined offering with Disney+ and prevent further attrition of some popular franchises from hulu to Peacock or Discovery+/Nat Geo.

What Iger’s agenda on that deal and its terms will be remains to be seen.

Subscribers to hulu+ Live TV already have an option to get a free subscription to premium or ad-supported versions of Disney+.

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By Greg Tarr

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