Disney Hunts For Telco Topper

The search is on to find a chief executive officer for the joint programming venture involving Disney and telcos South western Bell, Ameritech and BellSouth.

Disney and the Baby Bell companies have retained the headhunting firm of Spencer Stuart to locate the CEO, according to a confidential March 6 memo sent to prospective candidates and obtained by Variety.

John Cooke, the former Disney Channel president who was recently promoted to executive vice president, corporate affairs, will oversee the studio’s interest in the venture.

Whoever takes the post would likely want a deal similar to the one that former CBS and Broadcast Group president Howard Stringer recently received to lead the Creative Artists Agency-Baby Bell venture. Whether Disney and the telcos are prepared to offer a stake remains to be seen, however.

Former Fox Entertainment president Sandy Grushow has been rumored for a high-level post in the CAA-led venture. Sources familiar with the search for the Disney-backed project indicated that he also could be considered for the Disney telco post, since the Disney project would be looking at the same candidates as CAA.

At a time when its image is suffering on Wall Street in the wake of top management defections , the most recent being television and telecommunications chairman Rich Frank – the studio is likely to want someone of Stringer’s stature.

However, sources indicated that it would be difficult to find an executive at Stringer’s level who’s available for the job. In the memo, Spencer Stuart’s Steve Unger said the firm had “just received the go-ahead to begin to contact, discreetly, certain selected sources and candidates.”

Although the joint venture parties have yet to sign a definitive agreement, Unger said “they have agreed to all the business terms” and a document is being drafted.

Interestingly, the Spencer Stuart memo describes the Disney-telco joint venture as the one “competing with” the CAA/Nynex/Bell Atlantic/Pacific Telesis venture that just hired Stringer.

In reality, the two ventures will not go head-to-head. The telcos each have specific areas of the country they serve; therefore, programming created by the CAA-telco venture would likely be offered to other phone companies, as would any fare created by the Disney-telco venture.

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