Kevin Mayer, a former top executive at Disney and a former partner at strategy firm L.E.K. Consulting, has been selected as the CEO of social media platform TikTok, as well as COO of parent company ByteDance. The hiring of the prominent American businessman is likely an attempt to build trust and legitimacy for the Chinese-origin platform, which has faced scrutiny from US lawmakers as a potential security threat.
TikTok has exploded onto the social media scene in the past year, with over a billion global users. The platform, which focuses on sharing short videos that can be filtered and modified in various ways, has caught on with younger audiences.
With intense popularity comes greater scrutiny, however. As tensions between the US and China continue to grow in the pandemic environment, lawmakers have tagged the Chinese app as a security concern. Numerous government agencies and branches of the military have barred their employees from using the app, as a result.
The hiring of Kevin Mayer, Disney’s former head of streaming, appears to be an effort to build trust with the American public and government. Hiring an American executive from Facebook, for example, would have been useless, since Americans associate the company with privacy concerns and information breaches. Disney, on the other hand, enjoys more public trust – though perhaps not as much as a prominent national bank, for example.
Mayer’s appointment as CEO of TikTok could also lend more industry credibility to the platform, enticing more advertisers and brand partners.
As COO of parent company ByteDance, Mayer will oversee corporate functions such as corporate development, sales, marketing, public affairs, security, moderation, and legal. He will also lead music, gaming, Helo (a social platform in India), and emerging businesses.
Mayer spent the last 15 years at Disney. As an EVP of corporate strategy and then as chief strategy officer since 2015, he was instrumental in driving the aggressive M&A plan which saw the firm acquire Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox. In the last two years, he was also head of the direct-to-consumer business and international operations – overseeing the successful launch of the Disney+ streaming platform, as well as overseeing other properties such as Hulu, ESPN+ and Hotstar, a popular streaming platform in India.
Having been a central figure in Disney’s evolution into a media behemoth, Mayer was seen as a top internal pick to lead the company after Bob Iger stepped down from the CEO role earlier this year. Instead, the CEO role went to Bob Chapek, the former head of the Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products segment.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join the amazing team at ByteDance,” Mayer 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.”
Mayer initially joined Disney in 1993, before leaving in 2000 to serve as CEO of Playboy.com, and then as head of Clear Channel Interactive. Between 2002 and 2005, he was a partner at global strategy firm L.E.K. Consulting, where he led the company’s global media and entertainment consulting projects.
He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MS in electrical engineering from San Diego State University, and a BS in mechanical engineering from MIT.
“Kevin’s wealth of experience building successful global businesses makes him an outstanding fit for our mission of inspiring creativity for users globally,” said Yiming Zhang, CEO of ByteDance. “As one of the world’s most accomplished entertainment executives, Kevin is incredibly well placed to take ByteDance’s portfolio of products to the next level.”