The Former Electrical Engineer Leading Disney’s Streaming Strategy

Olde Hornet

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Kareem Daniel has become one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful executives, exposing him to Hollywood’s slings and arrows.​

Mr. Daniel is the first Black executive to run a major Disney division in the company’s 99-year history. Adam Amengual for The New York Times
Kareem Daniel was on crutches in the spring of 2002. He had broken his right ankle playing basketball. But Mr. Daniel had no time to convalesce: A self-imposed clock was ticking on his attempt to change careers — to abandon safe-and-steady electrical engineering, a field that his parents had pushed, for the wild-and-woolly movie business, which was his dream.

So he hobbled to his car, and stared down a sign on the freeway: Los Angeles, 404 miles.
Mr. Daniel interviewed all over Hollywood and was rebuffed. Just as he was about to give up, he heard about an internship in the DVD department at Disney. It was supposed to be a phone interview, but Mr. Daniel pushed to meet in person. (“I wanted in the room,” he said.) The low-level Disney executive conducting the interview, Bob Chapek, hired him nearly on the spot.

“I’m not here today without that,” Mr. Daniel said. “It changed everything.”

Over the next 20 years, as Mr. Chapek rose to become the Walt Disney Company’s chief executive, the unremitting Mr. Daniel climbed with him — to a rung involving movie distribution strategy; then to business development for consumer products and interactive media; and ultimately to Imagineering, Disney’s theme park design division, and back to consumer products. In 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Chapek made Mr. Daniel the chairman of a new division, Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, which was created to give priority to the company’s streaming services (Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+) and to guarantee they receive a steady flow of Disney’s best content.

In short, Mr. Chapek entrusted Mr. Daniel with streaming subscriber growth, an all-important task that has come under increased Wall Street scrutiny in recent months, ever since Netflix started to lose subscribers, shaking Hollywood.

It is a colossal job that has made the little-known Mr. Daniel, 48, one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful executives. In some ways, he is Disney’s top content traffic cop, deciding whether $33 billion in annual film and television content gets routed to streaming, traditional TV channels or theaters. Should the next Pixar movie debut exclusively in theaters? Or should it be made instantly available “for free” to Disney+ subscribers? Pixar will be asked for input, but Mr. Daniel and his team will make the final call.

“Ultimately, we will make the best decisions that we feel are right for the consumer,” Mr. Daniel said.