Ever since Tom Staggs left, many have wondered who will emerge as the front runner to replace Bob Iger as the leader of The Walt Disney Company. Many names have been tossed around from Sheryl Sandberg to Peter Chernin, but I am going to hypothesize that another name may be the candidate that no one is suspecting: Bob Bowman
No, not Michael Phelps swimming coach. I am talking about Major League Baseball’s President of Business & Media who led MLB Advanced Media to the point that Disney would be willing to spend $1 billion for a 33% stake in its technological offshoot.
Let’s admit it… when you thought of who would lead the streaming revolution, you weren’t thinking of Major League Baseball. These are the same stuck-in-their-ways folks that can’t make up their mind if they like the Designated Hitter or not. But with $30 million invested from the teams, Bowman built a technology organization that has become respected throughout the sports world and beyond. When the NHL realized they needed technology help, they went to Baseball to get it. Same thing with the WWE, ESPN, HBO, and Glenn Beck, just to name a few.
Bowman was able to accomplish something that few have succeeded at: building a successful technology operation within an “old guard” organization. While Disney has not had much success bringing high-tech organizations such as Infoseek and Maker Studios into the family, they may have greater luck with a group of folks that understand how to work within a traditional framework. After all, it doesn’t get more traditional that baseball.
Disney’s biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to handle the inevitable transition from traditional broadcasts to streaming and on-demand services. You just have to look at the Olympics or the VMAs to see why this is important. Viewership on TV saw big drops while streaming views saw meteoric gains. And as many streaming services make it clear every day, not everyone knows how to deliver content through these new modes successfully in ways the don’t frustrate the viewers. Disney will be moving ESPN, Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars content to streaming one way or the other. They may as well bring someone in who knows how to navigate and monetize these new forms of distribution.
Let’s not forget the Bowman also oversees the MLB Network, so he also knows how to manage a television network. While MLB Network is nowhere near the size of ESPN, Disney Channel, or ABC, he does have experience in broadcasting.
What about the parks? While he does not have theme park experience, he did oversee Sheraton during a particularly successful period, so he knows how to manage a large workforce that the hospitality industry requires. It should also be noted that neither Eisner nor Iger had direct theme park knowledge prior to taking to top spot, but both have seemed to learned the business partly due to the strong and experienced teams that run the division.
The only other hole in his resume is movies. But with Kathy Kennedy, Kevin Feige, and Sean Bailey having a stellar track record, this is one part of the organization that probably doesn’t need too much direct leadership.
Will the board consider Bowman? I have no clue. He is probably a bit older than they would like, but there does not seem to be any other obvious choices. Perhaps the Disney Board’s investment in BAMTech was a way to get a bit closer to Bowman to see if he would be a good fit. Perhaps the upcoming launch of the ESPN branded streaming service will prove to be Bowman’s test.
Of course, this is all wild speculation on my part. The chances that he would be considered, let alone be offered the job are minuscule and my speculation has no basis in fact or inside knowledge.
No one is suspecting the Bowman will take over the top job. That being said, no one expected Iger to buy Marvel or Star Wars. So perhaps we should really learn to expect what no one is suspecting.