By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES, March 11 Anne Sweeney, the
president of Walt Disney Co's Disney/ABC Television
Group, will leave the media company in January after 18 years to
pursue a career in television directing, the company said on
Sweeney, also co-chair of Disney Media Networks, oversees
the ABC broadcast network, ABC Studios and cable networks
including the Disney Channels and ABC Family.
The former Fox and Nickelodeon executive joined Disney in
1996 and played a key role in implementing Chief Executive Bob
Iger's digital strategy. In 2005, she led negotiations with
Apple Inc that enabled Disney to become the first
Hollywood studio to license its movies for download from Apple's
On March 3, Disney licensed the digital rights for ESPN, the
Disney Channel and other properties to satellite operator Dish
Networks Inc, allowing it to become the first pay
television operator to distribute TV shows online outside of a
traditional TV subscription.
Sweeney, 56, said she wanted to explore a more creative job
in the television business.
"There has always been a nagging voice in the back of my
head pushing me to step out of the comfort zone of the executive
ranks and more directly into the creative arena that enticed me
to TV in the first place," she said in a statement. "I finally
listened to that voice and thought, 'If not now, when?'"
Iger, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, said he
had offered Sweeney a multi-year contract extension. "She
shocked me by saying she didn't really want to go long, that she
was thinking about her life and exploring other things," he
Iger said he would look for a replacement quickly, aiming to
have someone in place during the TV pilot season that runs
through May. "My goal is to do it fast," he said.
The CEO also expressed confidence in ABC Entertainment Group
President Paul Lee, who was hired to run the network in 2010.
ABC has struggled in the ratings, ranking fourth so far this
season among the major broadcasters in overall viewers and in
the 18 to 49 age group prized by advertisers, according to
Lee "has got my full support," Iger said, adding that "he
and I share the (belief that) we'd love a few more hits at ABC."
"By the way, there are elements of prime time that we're
quite happy about," Iger said, mentioning political drama
"Scandal" and business reality show "Shark Tank."