Senior Disney executive Kevin Mayer has been appointed the chief executive of TikTok, bringing one of the biggest names in traditional media to the rising star of online video.
Mr Mayer, who was passed over for the chief executive job at Disney, will move to TikTok from June, where he will also serve as chief operating officer of ByteDance, the app’s Chinese owner.
After starting to gain traction in the West in 2019, TikTok has exploded in popularity this year among entertainment-starved teens under coronavirus lockdowns. Last month, the short-form video app, which hosts viral dance challenges, reached 2bn downloads and broke the quarterly record for app installs in the first quarter of this year, with 315m App Store and Google Play downloads, according to data from Sensor Tower.
However, the group has been dogged by concerns over user privacy, national security and the censorship of content given its Chinese roots. In response, TikTok has sought to outsource decision-making about its content moderation and policies from China to local teams.
The latest hire reveals TikTok’s ambition to grow in the US, where it has been building a hub in Los Angeles. The company last year poached Ole Obermann, a longtime record executive at Warner Music, as its new head of music.
Mr Mayer, who most recently oversaw Disney’s streaming push, had been viewed by some analysts as the frontrunner to succeed Bob Iger as chief executive of the entire company. Over the past two decades, the longtime Disney executive had helped orchestrate a series of acquisitions — including Pixar, Marvel and 21st Century Fox — to help build the US entertainment group into the world’s biggest traditional media company.
Mr Mayer will report directly to Yiming Zhang, ByteDance’s founder and chief executive, while Alex Zhu, the current president of TikTok, will become ByteDance’s vice-president of product and strategy, the company said.
“Like everyone else, I’ve been impressed watching the company build something incredibly rare in TikTok — a creative, positive online global community — and I’m excited to help lead the next phase of ByteDance’s journey as the company continues to expand its breadth of products across every region of the world,” Mr Mayer said on Monday.
On top of bolstering the company’s nascent offering to advertisers, Mr Mayer will be tasked with managing TikTok’s reputational issues. Last week, 20 child protection advocacy groups accused TikTok of violating child privacy regulations in the US — just over a year after the company was fined $5.7m by the Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting children’s data. The company has also consistently come under fire for failing to remove toxic content from the child-friendly platform.
Politicians in the US launched a national security review into the app last year. Reacting to Monday’s announcement, Republican senator Josh Hawley, who asked TikTok to attend a congressional hearing in March over its ties to China, said on Twitter: “[TikTok] previously told me they couldn’t attend hearings and testify because executives were located in China. But this new executive lives in the USA. I look forward to hearing from him. Under oath.“
Bob Chapek, the former head of Disney’s parks business who took over as chief executive in February, commended Mr Mayer for his “extraordinary impact” on the company.
Mr Mayer will be replaced by Rebecca Campbell, another Disney veteran who has worked at the company for two decades, having previously run the European business out of London. She is now tasked with leading the expansion of the Disney+ streaming platform to countries including Belgium, Japan and Portugal in the coming months.