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Technology

ByteDance names ex-Disney executive as COO and TikTok CEO

New hire Kevin Mayer ran entertainment giant's streaming and international business

Then-Disney executive Kevin Mayer on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in October 2019.    © Reuters

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Chinese technology giant ByteDance has appointed longtime media executive Kevin Mayer as its chief operating officer and as the new CEO of its TikTok short-video app, the company announced Monday.

Kevin Mayer, who most recently served as The Walt Disney Co.'s chairman of direct-to-consumer and international, starts at ByteDance on June 1. He has more than 25 years of experience in the industry and will report directly to ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming.

"As one of the world's most accomplished entertainment executives, Kevin is incredibly well placed to take ByteDance's portfolio of products to the next level," Zhang said in the company announcement. "I look forward to working very closely with Kevin on our global development and the next chapter of the ByteDance story."

Earlier this year, ByteDance appointed two executives to oversee its China operations, a move that will allow Zhang to "focus on leading and developing ByteDance's global strategy," the Nikkei Asian Review previously reported.

At Disney, Mayer was in charge of the development and rollout of the Disney+ streaming service, which amassed more than 50 million subscribers within five months of its launch.

Mayer also oversaw other Disney direct-to-consumer businesses, including Hulu, ESPN+ and Hotstar, as well as the U.S. media giant's international operations.

"Like everyone else, I've been impressed watching the company build something incredibly rare in TikTok -- a creative, positive online global community -- and I'm excited to help lead the next phase of ByteDance's journey as the company continues to expand its breadth of products across every region of the world," Mayer said in the news release.

ByteDance's headquarters in Beijing's Zhonggunagcun area, also known as "China's Silicon Valley." (Photo courtesy of ByteDance)

ByteDance's new COO will be charged with the global development of the rapidly growing Chinese tech giant, as well as leading efforts in music, games, Indian social media platform Helo and other emerging businesses.

Mayer will also serve as the new CEO of TikTok -- ByteDance's popular short-video product which has many millions of daily active users around the world.

Adding an experienced American media executive is part of ByteDance and TikTok's push to expand globally and distance itself from China after facing regulatory headwinds in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States this past October to investigate ByteDance's 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly. And in November, a California college student sued in a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the company had sent data to China without users' consent.

In January, the U.S. Army ordered military personnel to immediately remove TikTok from government-issued devices, warning that the platform "poses a potential national security risk" through its ability to collect personal information from a user's smartphone.

Under political pressure, ByteDance has stepped up lobbying efforts in Washington, and TikTok was reportedly seeking a new CEO to replace current President Alex Zhu earlier this year.

Zhu will now transition to vice president of product and strategy at ByteDance to focus more on "his primary passion overseeing strategy and product design," according to the announcement.

Mayer is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate with an MBA from Harvard Business School, according to his LinkedIn page.

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