Disney has a long history of turning hourly employees into company executives. Kareem Daniel’s rise from intern to head of the company’s newest distribution division is no exception.
On Monday, Disney announced that it would be restructuring its media and entertainment divisions in an effort to streamline its direct-to-consumer strategy, which will now focus even more heavily on its streaming services.
As part of the reorganization, CEO Bob Chapek tapped Daniel, the former president of consumer products, games and publishing, as the head of the company’s new media and entertainment distribution group.
Daniel is no stranger to working with Chapek. After all, the current CEO of Disney hired Daniel as an intern when Daniel was working on getting his MBA at Stanford. The pair also worked together when Chapek was the head of the parks, experiences and consumer products division and Daniel was heading up the Imagineering program.
Chapek has surrounded himself with parks staff. In May, when Josh D’Amaro, the former president of Walt Disney World Resort, was promoted to chairman of parks, experiences and consumer products, Chapek also handed the reins of Disney’s direct-to-consumer division to Rebecca Campbell. Campbell had been the president of Disneyland Resort.
As CEO, Chapek has been quickly putting his stamp on the company. Since taking the top post in February, the executive has been forced to be reactive, as the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the company’s theme park, studio and live-sports businesses.
In August, Chapek said he planned to accelerate the company’s push into streaming, which has seen a massive uptick in subscribers in recent months.
As of August, Disney has 100 million paid subscribers across its streaming offerings — Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu — more than half of whom are subscribers to Disney+.
Disney is becoming more reliant on its streaming service as movie theaters have been unable to recover after being shuttered in March due to the outbreak. Ticket sales and foot traffic have been particularly lackluster at domestic theaters since the industry attempted a large-scale reopening in late August.
This disappointing turn has forced Disney, and other studios, to postpone major blockbuster releases.
That’s where Daniel comes in. The 46-year-old will be in charge of making sure streaming becomes profitable and making big decisions about Disney’s theatrical and streaming content and release schedules going forward.
Daniel, a Chicago native, has been with the company for 14 years and has experience across several of Disney’s divisions. Notably, he was the vice president of distribution strategy at Walt Disney Studios when Disney closed its deal to purchase Marvel Studios for around $4 billion in 2009.
Daniel, a self-proclaimed comic book lover and movie buff, was also part of the team that purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion.
Marvel and Star Wars have become a massive piece of Disney’s strategy in recent years. The two franchises were not only box office successes, generating more than $22 billion over the last decade, but have become vital to the company’s merchandising, licensing and theme park businesses.
In 2017, Daniel took the helm as the head of the company’s theme park designers, known as Imagineers. Under his watch, Disney opened a number of new lands themed around popular movies and characters. Daniel aided in bringing to life Toy Story Land, Pixar Pier and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Additionally, he had a hand in the construction of the Marvel-themed land Avengers Campus that is set to open in California.
A key piece of Disney’s overall strategy is how its content feeds into other aspects of its business. A film franchise such as Star Wars not only fuels ticket sales at the movies and home video sales, but also merchandise and theme park ticket sales. Daniel’s experiences at Disney have put him in touch with many pieces in that chain.
“What we mean by experiential storytelling is that we actively engage our fans through some of the most innovative and immersive attractions, experiences and products in the world,” Daniel told Forbes in June 2019. “Simply, the four creative groups at Imagineering allow us to tell stories in a more connective way than ever before.”
In his new role, he will hold the reins to all of Disney’s streaming services, domestic television networks and studios — providing him with new ways to promote content across platforms. Alan Horn and Alan Bergman will remain in charge of the company’s studios, Peter Rice will continue to head the company’s general entertainment group, and James Pitaro will stay as head of the company’s sports content.