Rebecca Campbell, whose promotion to Disney’s Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer & International on Monday put her in charge of Disney+, Hulu, Hotstar and ESPN+, took a somewhat less-traveled road to the C-suite.
During the bulk of her 23 years at the company, Campbell focused on local broadcasting, running individual stations and the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, which has stations in New York, LA and six other cities. Before taking on programming and production roles at stations in Lancaster and Allentown, PA, she attended Bloomsburg University in central Pennsylvania, and worked on a children’s program hosted by Dennis Miller on Pittsburgh’s KDKA. Those Keystone State experiences carry more than faint echoes of former Disney CEO Bob Iger’s early-career stints in Ithaca, NY and as a young studio supervisor for ABC.
Since 2017, though, Campbell made a name for herself at Disney’s highest corporate levels. She worked directly with CEO Bob Chapek, the theme-park vet she now reports to, overseeing Disneyland Resort properties like Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. During the two previous years, she supervised 5,000 employees in 25 countries as president of Disney’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations.
Campbell’s arrival at DTCI, a division formed in 2018, marks a distinct change from predecessor Kevin Mayer, a Harvard MBA who gained notice internally by advising on the company’s biggest M&A transactions. Mayer, who is becoming CEO of mobile platform TikTok, spent a good chunk of his Disney run in the company’s strategic planning group as opposed to having an operational role. While many industry observers were stunned when he was passed over in February in favor of Bob Chapek when Iger handed the baton to a new CEO, that background was sometimes cited by way of explanation.
In taking the reins from Mayer, she will steer the expansion of Disney+ in Japan in June, with other key European and Latin American territories to follow by year-end. The new subscription service has gotten off to a fast start, recording 54.5 million subscribers in its first six months. Despite its successful launch, the streaming outlet faces questions about its programming pipeline, some of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 production limits. The streaming sector is also getting crowded, with Apple, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal joining the battle to close the gap with Netflix. Still another evolving strategic area is the ongoing debate about theatrical release windows, a key front for Disney, which controls nearly half the domestic box office.
Hulu, too, is continuing to grow but the pandemic has put its global rollout plans on hold and it is continuing to integrate its programming operations with projects born at FX. Hulu also has added a live TV bundle to its on-demand offering, seeing some initial growth but an uncertain industry climate for internet-delivered TV packages. One potent combination already has been a $13 bundle for Disney+, Hulu’s basic on-demand service and ESPN+.
Campbell has long analyzed streaming’s impact on the media landscape, though for a time it was from the local broadcasting point of view. For TV stations, the advent of streaming has been a complicated development, one with both promise and peril. Disney embraced the potential of digital delivery with initiatives like the Watch ABC app. But more broadly, it operated in a sector whose business models depended on linear advertising, with many decision-makers regarding streaming’s disruption with deep suspicion.
The executive’s first job at Disney was as VP of programming at WPVI in Philadelphia, keeping her in Pennsylvania, where she had graduated Bloomsburg University and got her first station experience. After becoming GM of WPVI, she moved to the same position in a larger market, running WABC in New York and overseeing shows like Live with Regis and Kelly. Campbell went on to preside over the Disney portfolio of stations and also oversaw ABC’s national sales and ABC Daytime.
During her run leading the stations, Campbell didn’t often try to grab the limelight. But she didn’t hesitate to deploy bare-knuckled rhetoric when situations occasionally required it. During one pitched carriage battle with Cablevision in 2010, she issued a statement reading in part: “Over and over again, Cablevision picks fights with programmers, and it is Cablevision subscribers who suffer the loss. The inconvenient truth about Cablevision is that it pockets hundreds of millions of dollars in subscriber fees each year by carrying ABC7. Dropping our station would be the latest insult.”