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‘Wowza’: Disney CEO steps down

NEW YORK (AP) — Disney CEO Bob Iger, who steered the company’s absorption of Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and Fox’s entertainment businesses and the launch of a Netflix challenger, is stepping down immediately, the company said in a surprise announcement Tuesday.

The Walt Disney Co. named as his replacement Bob Chapek, most recently chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products business.

“Did not see this coming — Wowza,” tweeted Light­Shed media analyst Rich Greenfield.

Iger will remain executive chairman through the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. Besides leading the board, Iger said he will spend more time on Disney’s creative endeavors, including the ESPN sports network, the newly acquired Fox studios and the Hulu and Disney Plus streaming services. He said he could not do that while running Disney on a day-to-day basis.

“It was not accelerated for any particular reason other than I felt the need was now to make this change,” Iger said on a conference call with reporters and analysts.

Iger steered Disney through the successful purchases of Lucasfilms, Mar­vel, Pixar and other brands that became big moneymakers for Disney. Last year, the top five movies in U.S. and Canada theaters were all Disney movies, including two from Marvel and one from Pixar. With the Dec. 20 release of the latest “Star Wars” movie, Disney had seven movies that each sold at least $1 billion in tickets worldwide last year.

Iger’s most recent coup was orchestrating a $71 billion purchase of Fox’s entertainment business in March and launching the Disney Plus streaming service in November, which got nearly 29 million paid subscribers in less than three months.