NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Kevin Mayer may have to learn some new moves if he’s to succeed as TikTok’s new chief executive. The departing Walt Disney executive brings a lot to the party that the video app needs. He was most recently head of the Magic Kingdom’s streaming service and before that an M&A maestro. But TikTok Chinese parent ByteDance, where Mayer will also serve as chief operating officer, also needs him to navigate tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Mayer was one of the main architects of Disney’s splashiest acquisitions from a large chunk of Fox to Lucasfilm. He went on to lead Disney+, a critical initiative to better battle Netflix, kick-starting the service which has picked up an impressive 50 million subscribers since its November launch.
Mayer was regarded as one of the candidates to succeed Bob Iger as boss. That didn’t happen; instead Disney’s board picked the head of its theme parks, Bob Chapek. So it’s not much of a surprise that Mayer was on the lookout for something else.
As a U.S.-based executive, ByteDance may hope that Mayer helps assuage some fears the nation’s lawmakers have about TikTok’s popularity. Washington is already suspicious of homegrown social-media companies Facebook, Google and Twitter because of their ability to sweep up consumer data and the enormous influence they wield. In November, lawmakers launched a national-security probe of ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok’s predecessor Musical.ly.
U.S.-China relations have strained further since the coronavirus pandemic ravaged health and the global economy. Last week, the White House slapped new restrictions on Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies’ ability to tap American suppliers, out of fear that Beijing will use it as a backdoor for spying. ByteDance and TikTok have managed to deflect calls to testify before lawmakers. Mayer, on the other hand, will probably have to beat a path to Washington.
Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.
Sign up for a free trial of our full service at https://www.breakingviews.com/trial and follow us on Twitter @Breakingviews and at www.breakingviews.com. All opinions expressed are those of the authors.