Disney Names ABC News President as Co-Chairman of TV Unit

Walt Disney Co. named ABC News President Ben Sherwood as co-chairman of its media networks, filling the vacancy created by the planned departure in January of Anne Sweeney.

Sherwood will begin the transition immediately as co-president of the Disney/ABC Television Group and will continue to oversee news until a successor is named, the Burbank, California-based company said today in a statement.

Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger is moving quickly to fill a key executive role that oversees the company’s largest division. Sherwood, 50, who will work alongside ESPN President John Skipper as media co-chairman, will be responsible for the Disney channels, the ABC broadcast network and the ABC Family cable channel.

“Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” Iger said in the statement. “He’s also focused, strategic and competitive.”

After being named ABC News president in December 2010, Sherwood oversaw “Good Morning America” as it surpassed NBC’s “Today” show in viewers and narrowed the ratings gap between ABC’s “World News” and NBC’s “Nightly News” in the evening.

An ABC News partnership with Yahoo! Inc. under Sherwood boosted the news division’s online exposure and he helped developed Fusion, a cable-TV channel joint venture with Univision Communications Inc. that targets English-speaking Latinos with news and lifestyle programming.

Disney’s Largest

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, fell 1.1 percent to $79.49 at the close in New York. The stock has risen 4 percent this year.

The media networks division, led by ESPN and the Disney-branded channels, is Disney’s largest, generating $6.82 billion in operating income, 64 percent of the company’s total, in the most recent fiscal year.

Sweeney, 56, announced plans on March 11 to leave Disney before the contest heats up to replace Iger, who plans to retire in June 2016. Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo and parks division head Thomas Staggs have been mentioned frequently by analysts as leading contenders.

Under Sweeney’s direction, the Disney Channel quintupled its subscriber base. She supervised the introduction of related channels, including Disney XD, aimed at boys, and Disney Junior, targeting preschoolers. In 2005, ABC became the first network to make its shows available at Apple Inc.’s iTunes store.

Like other broadcast networks, ABC has struggled with declining viewership of traditional television as consumers turn to cable TV and Web-based options such as Netflix Inc.

For the television season that started in September, ABC is averaging 7.42 million viewers in prime-time, a decline of 5.1 percent from a year earlier, according to Nielsen data. In the advertiser-targeted group ages 18 to 49, ABC is in last place, down 7.9 percent to 2.68 million viewers.

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