Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey are stepping down from Walt Disney’s board of directors, the media group said late on Friday, in the latest sign of the growing competitive tensions between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The move was revealed by the omission in Disney’s annual proxy statement of Ms Sandberg’s and Mr Dorsey’s names from the list of directors standing for re-election.
Once seen as allies and advisers to help guide traditional media companies into the digital age, tech executives are now viewed as presenting potential conflicts of interest. “Given our evolving business and the businesses Ms Sandberg and Mr Dorsey are in, it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid conflicts relating to board matters, and they are not standing for re-election,” a Disney spokesperson said.
Disney is preparing to launch online streaming services starting later this year that will compete not only with the likes of Netflix but also the growing online video offerings from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Technology companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook are together pouring billions of dollars into original content commissioning, often bidding against traditional networks for the rights to new shows and live sports broadcasts.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter had any comment beyond Disney’s statement. Ms Sandberg, who is Facebook’s chief operating officer, had at one time been seen as a potential successor to Disney chief executive Bob Iger. However, Ms Sandberg ruled herself out of the running in 2016 when she told a Recode conference: “I don’t want another job . . . I love Facebook and my team.” At that time, Mr Iger had been planning to step down later this year but as part of Disney’s move to acquire 20th Century Fox, announced last month, he extended his contract as chairman and chief executive until the end of 2021. Disney considered buying Twitter in 2016, Mr Iger has subsequently admitted, as the media group looked for new ways to build a direct relationship with consumers.
“Given our evolving business and the businesses Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Dorsey are in, it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid conflicts relating to board matters . ..”
Despite Disney’s claim of a conflict of interest, it is not unusual for tech and media executives to serve on each others’ boards. Mr Iger is an Apple director, while Netflix chief Reed Hastings is on Facebook’s board. Disney’s sports streaming service based on its ESPN network of channels is scheduled to launch later this year, while a family entertainment online video service is set to follow next year.
Last May, Twitter announced 12 new collaborations to bring “hundreds of hours” of live programming, including sports, to its rapid-fire communications platform, including PGA Tour golf and Major League Baseball. In September, Facebook launched Watch, a new tab dedicated to a wide range of original video, and the social network is said to be planning to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on content this year.
Alongside revealing news of Ms Sandberg’s and Mr Dorsey’s board departures in March, Disney’s filing also said two other directors would step down. Orin Smith, its lead independent director, is retiring at the age of 74. The statement also showed that Mr Iger’s total compensation fell by 17 per cent to $36.3m last year, because of a smaller performance-related cash bonus than he received in 2016.