UPDATE 2-ESPN's longtime boss Bodenheimer stepping away

Tue Nov 22, 2011 2:58pm EST

* Skipper replaces Bodenheimer as president

* Bodenheimer moves to executive chairman role

Nov 22 (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co announced a management shake-up at ESPN on Tuesday, saying longtime President George Bodenheimer would leave behind his day-to-day duties after 13 years in which he built the network into a sports powerhouse.

Disney tapped John Skipper, 55, to replace Bodenheimer, 53, as ESPN president and the co-chair of Disney Media Networks. Skipper will take over those roles on Jan. 1, when Bodenheimer steps away from his day-to-day operating duties and moves into the position of ESPN executive chairman.

Skipper has been ESPN's executive vice president of content since October 2005.

The shift comes just weeks after the news that Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger will step down as CEO in March 2015 after nearly a decade at the helm. That announcement set off a guessing game over who would eventually take over the media giant, with many on Wall Street pointing to Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo and Tom Staggs, who heads the company's theme parks and resorts division.

Bodenheimer and his Disney Media Networks co-chair and ABC Networks president Anne Sweeney were also seen as possible future CEO candidates.

"I don't think Bodenheimer was in line to be CEO, it's going to either be Staggs or Rasulo, especially given the recent changes with Iger. Maybe Bodenheimer will take on more corporate Disney responsibility," Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce.

Insiders at ESPN, who spoke on background, were keen for Bodenheimer's move to be explained as a "move up and not out".

Iger said in statement Bodenheimer's move reflected the depth of executive talent at ESPN.

"We've focused on succession at all levels of Disney for some time now, and consistent with that approach, George initiated conversations last spring that led to today's announcement," said Iger.

Bodenheimer had built ESPN into an enviable powerhouse in sports programming and cable in general. U.S. cable distributors pay ESPN the highest carriage fees in the business at around $4 a subscriber. Cable and satellite distributors frequently highlight ESPN's fees as a reason for consumers' rising cable bills.

Shares of Disney were down 1.1 percent at $33.96 in afternoon trading.

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