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Region native has keys to Magic Kingdom

Region native has keys to Magic Kingdom

Bob Chapek is Disney Studio's new president of distribution

It wasn't Tinkerbell's pixie dust that has helped Bob Chapek bring his own brand of magic to Disney -- it was a childhood with homegrown Hoosier working-class values.

"I think I was one of the original latch-key kids," said the 1977 Hammond Clark High school graduate. "The whole time I was growing up, both my parents worked.

"They instilled a work ethic in me and worked hard for the nicer things in life. I saw their role-modeling, and it made a permanent impact on my drive and ambition. The people of Northwest Indiana are people with high integrity and an extraordinary work ethic."

Chapek, 50, now of Santa Rosa Valley, is Walt Disney Studios' new president of distribution. He'll manage the delivery of films and TV shows across multiple platforms, including theatrical, home entertainment, pay TV, digital formats and other media.

His entire family graduated from Clark and lived in Robertsdale. His dad, Bernard, 86, was a Whiting oil refinery machinist. His mom, Marie, 83, worked at an insurance agency in East Chicago. Both retired and now live on Bass Lake in Knox.

The former St. John the Baptist altar boy, who could be relied on to show up promptly at 6 a.m., was neither a technogeek nor a Disney-phile but was always self-disciplined.

"He played hard and worked hard," his mother Marie Chapek said. "He put his heart and soul into everything. If he did a job, he was never satisfied. He always wanted to do more. And he still has a heart for the Calumet region and feels very close to Hammond."

He earned a microbiology degree from Indiana University and a Michigan State MBA and has had a 16-year career with the entertainment giant, which generates about $35 billion annually.

Chapek's new position is a major promotion and part of a shakeup elevating executives with digital distribution experience which reflects a new strategic direction for bringing creative content to the global marketplace.

Entertainment magazine Variety reported Chapek has driven Disney's home video business, a major moneymaker. He has a record of distributing more films and TV shows through new digital methods such as Apple's iTunes service and Sony's PlayStation Network.

This month, Disney reported an 18 percent gain in income, which was fueled by gains in the TV group that helped offset losses at the film studio and softening at the theme parks.

"The way we consume entertainment has changed dramatically with digital delivery," he said. "I found myself in a world that wasn't so foreign to me and applied my scientific, technical ways of thinking to the business world. Now, I've come full circle."

A visionary, Chapek oversees developing the next generation high-definition Blu-ray Disc and in-home 3D. Panasonic and Sony have confirmed they will begin selling stereoscopic 3D TVs and Blu-ray players in 2010.

Media analysts predict 10 percent of home TV screens will be capable of displaying 3D images by 2011. 

Disney hopes to support the hardware, and at an Anaheim, Calif., consumer show in September executives said the company anticipates releasing 3D titles such as "Toy Story 3" as early as fourth quarter 2010.

"Blu-ray represents a big opportunity to have a complete conversion of format from DVD and give consumers a new experience," Chapek said.

"Take that technology and mix it with the Disney brand, and it gives a whole new canvas on which to paint the home entertainment experience in a more robust, interactive and enriching way." 

Chapek didn't have the kind of job that required a stage audition, but he is nonetheless a talented performer. His career has been no less thrilling than a wild ride at one of Disney's theme parks.

"My measure for success is happiness," he said. "My experiences have been well beyond what I could have imagined. There's always a new adventure around every corner, and I'm working with one of the greatest brands in the world."

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