Kevin Mayer talks about his disappointing departures at Disney and TikTok, and the long decline of pay TV

The remainder one year in Kevin Mayer’s legit lifestyles wasn’t genuine a whirlwind, it changed into a world overview of the safe tales in media and entertainment.

Mayer started 2020 running Disney+, Disney‘s flagship and wildly a success streaming service. Nonetheless when Mayer wasn’t named Disney’s chief executive officer after Bob Iger stepped down, he left for a recent fair namely developed for him: CEO of TikTok and chief running officer of its Chinese language mother or father company ByteDance.

Surprisingly, he changed into handiest there for 3 months. The Trump administration’s strive to pressure a TikTok U.S. sale led to his abrupt exit.

By November, Mayer had joined billionaire Len Blavatnik’s funding firm Win admission to Industries as an advisor. Valid this month, he changed into chairman of one in all Blavatnik’s investments, the sports streaming service DAZN.

Mayer has also joined the SPAC sport, advising on Woodland Avenue’s acquisition of smartly being subscription service Beachbody and now attempting to search out a recent target with feeble colleague and ex-Disney CFO Tom Staggs.

In an interview with CNBC this week, Mayer changed into candid about his exits at Disney and TikTok, describing what changed into going thru his ideas as he left both jobs. He published the “secret sauce” to both TikTok’s and DAZN’s future success.

Right here is the elephantine Q&A:

(This interview has been lightly edited for dimension and readability.)

Alex Sherman, CNBC: Let’s genuine quick remind folks what has took direct on your lifestyles from a legit standpoint all seemingly the most best ways thru the final one year, and perchance then you definately’ll be ready to supply some context as to how this all took direct.

Kevin Mayer, DAZN Chairman: Obvious.

A pair of one year ago, Disney announces Bob Chapek may maybe perchance be the recent CEO, and Bob Iger goes to step down. A pair months later, you direct you are leaving Disney to change into the recent CEO of TikTok and COO of ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese language mother or father company. Right here is a space that did not previously exist. Modified into as soon because it namely made for you in ideas?

I dangle so. As I steal, the recruiters had been recruiting for the CEO fair. And the extra I got into attending to know the personnel at ByteDance, and given the experiences I’ve had, the fair that I played at Disney, it changed into sure that it’d be a keen thought for me to dangle a twin fair, because I dangle that all people felt I will also very smartly be slightly valuable on the company diploma as smartly. So I dangle it changed into a job that developed everywhere in the discussions.

So obviously, that job changed into an perfect different. We’ll salvage into what took direct there in a 2nd. Nonetheless first, I are looking out to request you about this, because I know folks are extraordinary and I’m extraordinary. Did you dangle you had been going to be the following Disney CEO?

I hoped I’d be. I’m unsure hope and expectations are the the same. It be a good job, CEO of Disney.

Peek, in case you would requested me that request 5 years ago, I’d dangle said, no, I did not. I did not screech I changed into headed in opposition to the CEO of Disney. Nonetheless given the confluence of events of Tom Staggs leaving, then there being somewhat of a vacuum everywhere in the 21st Century Fox deal, which led to Bob Iger to shut somewhat longer… And the real fact that I changed into ready to originate Disney+ so successfully. I also launched ESPN+, and I changed into running Hulu, and I led your full reconfiguration of the company into screech to consumer. Bob Iger and the board felt that I ought to serene bustle all of that.

That changed into, I thought, intended to be somewhat of a test bustle to gaze if I will also very smartly be CEO. I’m unsure what I may maybe presumably presumably dangle performed there to show camouflage myself extra than I did. I dangle that Bob left earlier than he expected to.

Why? Why did he go earlier than he expected to?

That is a request for Bob Iger, not for me.

That complete announcement seemed in fact rushed. With out note, he’s announcing ‘I am going to step down effective straight.’ He’d previously said he changed into waiting for to step down this one year, in 2021. I design not know if it caught you off guard, but it surely sounds esteem it did.

I did not know that changed into coming in any respect. Peek, my interpretation of it’s that Bob Iger wished to focal level extra on the artistic aspect of issues. He has a good deal of affinity for that. And it genuine form of escalated quick. And he and the board of directors wished to build a call about who may maybe perchance be the following CEO.

What I’ve heard is I wished somewhat bit extra seasoning. I’d handiest been in that fair for a number of years, in an running fair. Earlier than that I changed into chief approach officer and a workers fair, though I had a good deal of folks working for me across the area and all that stuff. And I dangle that the timing of his ascension to being executive chairman, coupled with the real fact that Bob Chapek had a good deal of expertise….Bob Chapek is a lawful guy, by the manner. He’d labored everywhere in the full diversified areas of Disney. He changed into in the studio, he changed into running consumer merchandise, had been running the theme parks. It be not a rotten resolution. So I will’t….anyone wins and anyone loses in that difficulty. And given the timing of it and in the immediacy of it, I dangle that folk felt that he changed into the safer pair of fingers for the time being.

Did I are looking out to be CEO? Obviously I did. Who would not are looking out to be CEO of the Walt Disney Firm? It be a enormous job.

So as that changed into the reply you bought? Simply that you just wished somewhat extra seasoning? Because folks can scurry abet and read it. I changed into public about it. I wrote on the time you ought to serene dangle gotten the CEO job since it handiest made sense to position the one which led the trend of Disney+ accountable of the company. That changed into going to be the account to Wall Avenue, and it has been. And, that’s no knock on Bob Chapek.

Yeah, gaze, I design not in fact feel esteem I ought to serene be in the direct of explaining this. You in fact ought to serene request Bob Iger or others who made the a decision, not me. Did I are looking out to be CEO? Obviously I did. Who would not are looking out to be CEO of the Walt Disney Firm? It be a enormous job.

All lawful. Let’s pass to TikTok. You salvage the job and likewise you are leading what’s doubtlessly the safe social media boost memoir since Facebook. I dangle it’s ravishing to convey at any time when the TikTok or ByteDance IPO is, it’d be valued at an absurd amount of cash. You clutch that job in Would possibly maybe well presumably also. By August, you are out of the job for the reason that Trump administration seemed on the verge of forcing the sale of TikTok on the time, either to Microsoft or Oracle.

So the records gets out here’s occurring, and likewise you will dangle gotten no passion in running a watered down division of TikTok as a division of either of these corporations. And your job as CEO of TikTok, if the deal happens, would not encompass the U.S., in command that job is ruined too. So, you direct you are stepping down.

Nonetheless then the sale never happens for the reason that Chinese language executive gets enthusiastic on the leisure minute and nixes what changed into proposed. And then in the following months, the Trump administration doesn’t in fact push laborious for it. The election comes, he loses….yada, yada, yada. To this level, TikTok hasn’t been supplied. It continues to stay a ingredient of ByteDance.

So, that long-winded preface sets up my request. Lift out you feel screwed over by the Trump administration?

Uh, yeah. Yes. That is the brief acknowledge to it.

There may maybe presumably presumably need been reasons. [It’s] laborious to search out out precisely the full dynamics and the machinations of what they had been pondering and why they did what they did. The Trump administration, finally, changed into identified to sustain out issues on the cruise and without a good deal of pondering in the abet of it. Nonetheless it did gaze as if that changed into a excessive ruling by the [Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS)] guys, that it had to be divested and it changed into going to be divested. The real fact is, and I dangle you may maybe perchance presumably presumably perchance presumably even dangle written about this, but it surely’s genuine, that the job that I signed up for changed into going to be gone. And in the following couple of days changed into going to be gone. It changed into, esteem, extremely impending.

And so the guys at ByteDance and the board and I had discussions about it. And I did not are looking out to scurry bustle a division of Microsoft or Oracle. And if there changed into going to be a divestiture, esteem you said, there would be no U.S. operations. It changed into genuine too awkward and peculiar. And then your full thing leaked to The Monetary Times ahead of the announcement. I changed into going to build the announcement of my departure concurrently, on the the same time as the announcement of the sale.

TikTok is an perfect product, and ByteDance is an perfect company….the magic sauce there is of their synthetic intelligence expertise, coupled with machine learning, coupled with the ingestion of tens of hundreds and hundreds of videos every day and rising.

It did not seem esteem a huge deal on the time. I introduced my departure a number of days in advance of the sale, and all would turn out to make certain in a number of days. And then, as you convey, the Chinese language stepped in after which we are the build we are. So it changed into it changed into an odd direct of conditions.

So, given all of that, what are your ideas of how the Trump administration handled all of it? From reporting on it, it seemed very “bull in a china shop.”

I agree. It changed into very bull in a china shop. It changed into traditional Trump administration stuff. And he changed into slightly pondering it on the time. I design not know what is occurring on with the Trump administration’s pondering at any given moment, but it surely seemed slightly excessive and seemed esteem they had been intent upon doing it. And that’s what took direct. So, yeah, it wasn’t enormous.

Lift out you will dangle gotten any sense of the incentive in the abet of it? I will direct you, there had been some folks at TikTok who advised me on the time they thought it changed into motivated by what took direct with the Tulsa rally, with teenagers on TikTok messing that up for Trump. Lift out you feel esteem that changed into doubtlessly portion of this?

We had been advised it wasn’t. Nonetheless what elevate out I know? I even have not any thought.

I dangle that acknowledge is telling. “We had been advised it wasn’t.” That draw you at least requested the request!

You respect, I indicate…

Okay, let’s discuss about TikTok extra broadly. What’s TikTok’s safe difficulty to shut linked in the future years abet?

I dangle TikTok is an perfect product, and ByteDance is an perfect company. So I dangle that they’ll dangle every different to shut linked. I design not predict it turning into irrelevant, but I elevate out screech the magic sauce there is of their synthetic intelligence expertise, coupled with machine learning, coupled with the ingestion of tens of hundreds and hundreds of videos every day and rising — doubtlessly beyond that these days. The ability to parse them out and realize… they don’t in fact realize what’s in every video, per se, but they enlighten out realize precisely how videos filter thru their very refined, nuanced A.I. engine. So, their ability to shut on high of that and to sustain inserting linked videos in front of the linked these which may maybe presumably perchance be looking out to gaze them in true time… it’s laborious to mediate that turning into irrelevant, nearly ever, because that’s a in fact unparalleled product proposition.

It also is determined by folks growing express material for it. That virtuous cycle. It be a network build, in case you will. And apart from they prefer to shut thrilling to those which may maybe presumably perchance be growing the express material, to dangle this giant amount of express material created by a subset of the target audience, and the target audience loving what they’re seeing. That is the virtuous cycle that has to shut intact.

So, I screech there is also a that you just are going to be ready to dangle outcome in the future when perchance it will not be as linked to the creators. Presumably the creators obtain one opposite route to build money, or they don’t screech a course to the impact that they are looking out to dangle on TikTok. It be a possibility. I dangle they prefer to build sure that they’re very linked to the creators, for the reason that creators are the engine in the abet of them getting the express material that then the A.I. can act upon. So I elevate out screech that there is the next relevance difficulty that they ought to serene be interested by.

In due course, there will seemingly be one other TikTok that comes along that does one thing that we can’t screech that may maybe be in fact awesome in the social, entertainment and social media house. Nonetheless it doesn’t indicate that TikTok dies off so one thing else can clutch. Facebook and Instagram are serene spherical, and so is Tiktok, and so is YouTube. They’ll all coexist. I dangle a future the build there’ll be one other recent thing coming across the nook in a number of years, but Tik-Tok will close linked, I dangle.

You may maybe perchance presumably presumably perchance also very smartly be uniquely certified to reply to this request: Is TikTok direct up from a administration standpoint to be a publicly traded company soon?

I design not know the draw they’ll scurry public or as soon as they’ll scurry public. I’m unsure in the occasion that they’ll clutch ByteDance public, which owns TikTok, or TikTok one at a time. I genuine do not know. So it in fact is determined by how they scurry public. ByteDance is a juggernaut. They’ve administration on the tip of ByteDance which may maybe presumably perchance be very effective. Yiming Zhang is a founder who is an awfully effective guy with a enormous personnel. I dangle they is also a public company. Peek, I’d dangle liked to dangle performed that with them, but it surely did not work out that draw. In the occasion that they need some administration functionality, they’ll have not any danger attracting it.

So, is the vision to list ByteDance, a Chinese language company, on a U.S. substitute?

Theoretically. It may maybe maybe maybe also list simultaneously on a couple exchanges. It may maybe maybe maybe also very smartly be U.S. handiest, or Shanghai, or Hong Kong handiest. There are many Chinese language corporations listed in the U.S.

So let’s like a flash ahead again. In November, you joined the funding firm Win admission to Industries in an advisory fair. Right here is Len Blavatnik’s firm. Surely one of his critical entertainment investments is DAZN, the sports streaming service. And then genuine this month, you took over as chairman of DAZN, changing John Skipper, the feeble head of ESPN. What changed into it about this likelihood that made you dangle, OK, here’s one thing I are looking out to sustain out?

It be attention-grabbing. Keep in mind, I launched ESPN+ in the U.S., and I ran that, and that changed into per getting the UFC rights, plus baseball rights, plus a ton of faculty sports and other sports. It changed into esteem 12,000 events or one thing on ESPN+.

Sports activities, esteem every other visual entertainment express material form, goes to be an over-the-high service. That is genuine the build all the pieces is headed. Ragged pay-TV is declining, both here and in Europe. In most markets in Europe, it never in fact had the foothold that it had here.

DAZN is mostly focused in Europe and Asia. They’ve a huge business in Japan after which key markets in Europe. It has a world footprint thru boxing and a number of other sports. That’s what you watched in the U.S. and other nations. So I dangle it’s a in fact attention-grabbing platform. It strikes a chord in my memory of what we did at ESPN+. And I elevate out screech it’s the manner forward for sports.

Sports activities, esteem every other visual entertainment express material form, goes to be an over-the-high service. That is genuine the build all the pieces is headed.

In Europe especially, there is a approach in. Even when you are a TV subscriber, you always dangle had to pay additional for the sports. There’s continuously an explicit make a selection you had to build. So, we know the inquire. Everyone is conscious of the price aspects. Everyone is conscious of all that stuff in Europe. And I dangle that a number of of the challenges that we’re facing over there make a approach in for a streaming service esteem DAZN to work. So I’m slightly pondering the potentialities.

And I’m serene pondering the full other stuff that that Win admission to is doing in the TMT house. They contain a majority passion of Warner Music, which is now a public company since remaining June. They invent out a good deal of film and television stuff. They’ve a streaming song service, mostly in Europe, known as Deezer, which is huge in a number of of the European nations. So it’s fun to work with them.

Is there any avenue that you just are going to be ready to foresee that may maybe presumably presumably perchance enable DAZN to be a much bigger ingredient in america?

It be that you just are going to be ready to dangle, in the future, theoretically, that DAZN can also build inroads here. I genuine screech that for the time being and for the medium term, we in fact desire to focal level on Europe and Asia. That is the build the fertile territory is, mostly.

And you are talking about local sports to Europe and Asia, lawful? No longer world or American sports broadcast to a local target audience?

Yes. That is the critical to sports, to being a sports service that has momentum and in fact matters. To dangle staying vitality, you wish to enlighten the sports that subject to consumers no subject the build they are. And these are the local sports. So in the U.Okay., the English Premier League and perchance some cricket and perchance some rugby. In Germany, it’s Bundesliga, which is their equal of the EPL. In Japan, it’s baseball.

So it’s crucial to salvage these local rights in these nations. And that’s the manner you may maybe perchance be ready to build a true service clutch sustain.

And you feel esteem DAZN is smartly positioned to sustain out that, though you theoretically will seemingly be competing in opposition to elevated media corporations.

Yeah, I dangle we are positioned to sustain out it. We dangle the capital to sustain out it, and Len Blavatnik is committed to it. And it would work.

It be a flywheel that happens. As soon because it begins spinning, you may maybe perchance be ready to make momentum. You salvage the rights, you salvage the subscribers, you build your self in the gap that you just ought to serene moderately be the actual person that may maybe pay extra than the 2nd best bidder the following time spherical. What ESPN did in wholesale, that’s what we’re going to sustain out in retail. ESPN did this to the pay-TV guys. ESPN sold rights, they charged extra, they sold extra rights. You may maybe perchance presumably presumably perchance recreate that with local rights in local markets. And I dangle that’s what we’re going to sustain out.

OK, we’re not but performed with the tour of your jobs this one year. You are also running two recent SPACs along with your ancient Disney colleague Tom Skaggs, and, by the manner, Shaquille O’Neal is an investor. Initially, how elevate out you perceive Shaq?

I did not for my portion know Shaq ahead of we did this. So, what took direct changed into, I joined a SPAC that changed into formed by a company known as Woodland Avenue. Woodland Avenue is a somewhat recent company. Tom Staggs is one in all the initial traders. I changed into introduced to the founder, a guy named Zack Tarica, a enormous guy. His brother works there, too, Jeremy. The business they’re in is that they gain and sell earned tax credits that entertainment corporations make as soon as they as soon as they shoot a TV show camouflage or movies. They give you with tax credits, but not all entertainment corporations can in fact use them, so that they’re fungible, and likewise you may maybe perchance be ready to interchange them, and apart from they’re price loads.

This sounds positively John Malone-esque.

John Malone-esque. I screech you may maybe perchance presumably presumably perchance presumably also convey that.

So, they’re in the entertainment house, but from a sure perspective than I changed into ever in the house. Tom Staggs changed into one in all the initial traders in Woodland Avenue. He’s on the board. I got to know these guys. Now, I’m on the board of Woodland Avenue, the mother or father company, and apart from they launching a SPAC, and I agreed to be a strategic advisor to the first SPAC.

Shaquille O’Neal is an investor in Woodland Avenue. So as that’s how they know Shaq. And Shaq, by the manner, is a slightly a success business particular person, even a in fact a success business particular person. He’s in Papa John’s, and is on the board of a good deal of diversified corporations. And he’s a natty guy. I work on the side of him a ravishing amount since joining the SPAC. He’s natty! He’s lawful. He’s a true business particular person, a true investor. So, obviously having Shaq is gracious because he’s Shaq, obviously very illustrious and accepted, but he’s also in fact a substantive business particular person. So, they introduced him into that first SPAC I joined as an advisor. Tom Staggs changed into chairman of the advisory board. And it changed into a good deal of fun.

And you already got a company with the first one, lawful?

Yes, we stumbled on Beachbody slightly quick. It changed into one in all the quickest — they call it ‘de-SPAC’ (editor’s show camouflage: when a SPAC finds and acquires a target) — one in all the quickest in the history of SPACs. It changed into a in fact energizing expertise. And it has been slightly smartly purchased by the marketplace. SPACs are having their u.s.a.and down, but here’s a slightly lawful one. And so, Tom and I made up my ideas we’ll be the CEO and co-chairman of the following SPAC. That’s what we’re doing lawful now.

 And what are you targeting with this recent one?

The recent one will seemingly be equal to the first one, which is the TMT house, the expertise, media and telecommunications house, but we added a “C” for consumer.

In other phrases, it’d be a consumer facing company in the TMT house. Tom and I dangle a special fancy for corporations which may maybe presumably perchance be present process big trade or running in a dynamic atmosphere the build expertise is altering consumer behavior and altering business objects and transferring profit pools That is one thing that we did at Disney. Tom changed into CFO of Disney for a in fact long time. We’re extra than joyful in that atmosphere.

So we’re attempting to search out corporations which may maybe presumably perchance be present process that form of strategic shift, most frequently expertise pushed and additional pushed by consumer behavior shifts, which is a enormous example of that.

Beachbody is a enormous example of that. They had been a VHS company that did infomercials. Then they went to DVD. And now all the pieces is, finally, delivered digitally thru streaming. They’ve a subscription. They ancient to sell one-off programs esteem P90X — you may maybe perchance presumably presumably perchance presumably even dangle heard of that — for esteem $130 about 10 years ago. Now, for a one year’s subscription, you will pay $99. So it’s a in fact lawful deal, and it’s remodeled itself.

And apart from they even dangle social commerce the build they sell issues over social media networks utilizing influencers. And that’s one thing I saw with TikTok that’s going to blow up. And so that you just add this stuff collectively, and it’s a in fact frigid company. It be lawful in the heart of all these traits. So, one other corporations esteem that. We’re not smartly being experts, per se. We don’t focal level on the smartly being house, but a huge house the build applied sciences meet feeble companies.

Earlier than we scurry, I are looking out to salvage your read on the streaming landscape, given your success at Disney+. I dangle the critical request I battle with is will media corporations, along with Disney, be greater off in this recent streaming atmosphere than they had been in the feeble pay-TV atmosphere?

There’s loads to be said about being a retailer versus a wholesaler, and in the feeble TV atmosphere, Disney changed into a wholesaler. It did in fact smartly. There had been a bunch of channels, along with ESPN, that had been have to dangle networks for pay-TV operators. And it changed into a enormous business, absolute self assurance about it. It changed into in high boost mode for a in fact long time.

And, genuine to jump in, the cause I’m asking this, is in that atmosphere, you will dangle got got tens of hundreds and hundreds of folks paying for ESPN every month even in the occasion that they have to not watching it. And that goes away as a retailer and never a wholesaler.

Ultimate. And it’d be enormous if that endured to exist. Nonetheless strive to be life like about it. The life like future is that TV goes to convey no, and it’s declining slightly precipitously. There will seemingly be an quit the build it phases off at some level, however the build that is, I design not know. That is the manner it’s crucial to overview, transferring into a streaming and retail mode versus that eventual outcome. You wish to build your strategic decisions per reality. The reality is that it’s declining and falling to a diploma that’s critical smaller than it as soon as changed into. So, in opposition to that backdrop, being in a screech to consumer business is significantly greater than genuine riding that wholesale business down.

Given you are an investor in this world now, are you having a dangle a study what’s occurring with Discovery, Viacom and AMC Networks now? These corporations are going thru the roof, and their streaming companies and products have to not precisely Disney+. Does that build any sense to you?

You respect, there are other dynamics at play. In truth, I dangle there is so critical liquidity in the marketplace. Ardour rates are so low. Monetary institution accounts are draw elevated than they ever had been up to now in consequence of the full stimulus, which is genuine one other element of there being so critical liquidity. There’s the Reddit build. There’s extra retail activity than ever. The market is skewed in many different routes for a good deal of various reasons. We now dangle got to acknowledge that in any dialogue that we have about this.

Nonetheless I dangle there is a direct for these smaller media corporations to be price a ravishing amount of cash. The large, world, a success streaming operations — there are going to be a number of of them. There may maybe presumably presumably not be extra than a handful. Nonetheless you do not ought to serene be a huge, dominant world player to be price a ravishing amount of cash.

Utilize Discovery. I dangle that’s a enormous company. And I dangle it’s I dangle Discovery+ will elevate out very, very smartly. It be already doing very smartly. I dangle David Zaslav is fully natty and a in fact lawful CEO. Is it going to be Disney+? No. Is it’s it expected to be Disney+? Is it priced esteem Disney? No.

So it’s crucial to position it all in context. Discovery+ isn’t very going to be 200 million subscriber product across the area. I design not screech he ever would convey it’d be, although I design not screech he’s given a forecast, as I steal.

That is ravishing, he hasn’t. Nonetheless let me request you plod off of that request. Lift out you dangle we are headed in opposition to one other spherical of critical consolidation among the feeble media corporations?

I dangle that there is extra consolidation to advance abet. It be already slightly consolidated, but there is an argument to be made that the majority of these avid gamers are serene subscale. And in case you esteem to prefer to in fact compete with the depth and breadth of express material that it takes to compete on a world platform in a world sense, yeah, you wish extra consolidation.

You may maybe perchance presumably presumably be talking about NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia, Discovery…

Yeah, yeah. Presumably there is some consolidation there. That will presumably presumably perchance be natty, doubtlessly.

Okay, we’re on the tip of your job tour. Would you trade anything else?

You respect, there is continuously a silver lining to all the pieces. It has been a odd one year for me. Would I trade anything else? Presumably. Nonetheless I’m a firm believer that you just genuine gaze ahead. I’m having a enormous time. Things are having a look enormous.

So what would you will dangle gotten performed in another case?

Eh, I’d not elevate out anything else in another case.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the mother or father company of CNBC.

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