Shanghai Disneyland it ain’t: According to the Financial Times (and according to HITS Magazine according to the Financial Times), former Disney honcho Kevin Mayer has resigned as CEO of TikTok. This should be a lesson to everyone who is negotiating favorable deals with tech companies only to jump ship–sometimes you can’t go home again.
“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company,” Mr Mayer said in a letter to employees. “I understand that the role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally — will look very different as a result of the US administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business,” he added.
The smart money seems to be on an imminent sale (i.e., not waiting the full 90 days that they were given by the government), so Mayer is either getting out while the getting is good or may have been pushed out. Bear in mind–Bytedance CEO Zhang Yiming must be well aware that pre-acquisition review by the U.S. Government’s Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) is a standard procedure which Bytedance chose not to pursue when it acquired Musical.ly. Had Bytedance submitted the Musical.ly transaction to a pre-acquisition review, TikTok might still have a version of the current problem, but it would have to come from a less legally solid ground and the government probably would not be able to use CFIUS to force a sale.
But that would have required opening the kimono, so to speak, and that would have been out of character.
Another lesson to be learned about entertainment industry executives switching sides and going to work for big data lords is that you have no idea what they are really doing with the user data being scraped every minute of every day and stored who knows where. But you can bet on one thing–it’s pretty horrible stuff and it’s probably illegal. (TikTok already got caught and fined by the FTC for exploiting children in violation of U.S. law.) Not to mention that TikTok is a massive copyright infringer. Child advocates complained to FTC accusing TikTok of ignoring the prior FTC settlement, which should come as no surprise because it’s just too tempting and they get to scrape all that data. (Another reason why it made sense for TikTok to want a Disney person for the CEO spot since Disney also makes tons of money off of kids, so Mr. Mayer had all that “good” training.)
Given all of TikTok’s problems with scraping data on young children and other disgusting practices, it’s hard to believe that this government-mandated unwinding transaction (aka fire sale) is going to go down without a lot of transparency. Which does not bode well for the data lords because there are two things they will simply not tolerate: transparency and getting caught.
Also remember that Kevin Mayer comes from a background that on a certain level is very well suited to dealing with authoritarian regimes. But he was not ever subject to the laws of an actual authoritarian regime. Disney is a nasty place, but the executives don’t carry guns at the office if you know what I mean. Having looked into the abyss of the coming deluge, Mr. Mayer may well want to make a quick exit before getting pulled down the maelstrom. Remember, Chairman for Life Xi Jinping (call sign “Batman”) is good buddies with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (call sign “Bonesaw”) (for example, Batman is helping Bonesaw build nukes). There’s no oxygen in that room for Kevin Mayer.
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Mayer’s phraseology is quite reminiscent of another Bytedance executive who reconsidered his life after “reflection”. (Bytedance is the parent of TikTok.)
According to his Wikipedia page, Bytedance CEO Zhang Yiming understands what happens when you don’t toe the Party line:
ByteDance’s first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down in 2018 by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang issued an apology stating that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values“, that it had a “weak” implementation of Xi Jinping Thought, and promised that ByteDance would “further deepen cooperation” with the ruling Chinese Communist Party to better promote its policies.
So there’s a whole lot of reflecting going on at Not the Happiest Place on Earth. Good for Kevin Mayer for getting out. Hopefully, they’ll let him. What’s a few subpoenas among friends, anyway?