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Early exit at Alphabet

ABC prez Bornstein ankles as nettled net streamlines

There’s one less cook stirring the ABC broth: Alphabet prexy Steve Bornstein is ankling his post after barely a year on the job.

Bornstein — who had oversight of the ABC Television network, its 10 O&Os, the Buena Vista Television syndication arm and cabler ABC Family — said he was leaving to pursue “other interests.” Disney has no plan to name a direct replacement for Bornstein — a strong indication the company will use his exit to streamline operations at the struggling Alphabet.

While pursuing other interests is often used as a rationale when an exec has been pushed, ABC insiders strongly disputed the notion that Bornstein’s exit was anything but voluntary.

However, Bornstein — well-respected within the Disney organization for his work helping build ESPN into a cable powerhouse — may have realized that he was no longer a perfect fit within the ABC org as the network attempts to mount a ratings comeback. With ABC network prexy Alex Wallau performing many of the same tasks as Bornstein, it’s also possible the latter exec concluded there wasn’t a need for him to stay at the net.

A chief criticism of ABC in recent years has been the net’s many layers of execs. In addition to Bornstein and Wallau, Lloyd Braun serves as chairman of the net’s entertainment division, while Susan Lyne recently was named prexy of the division. Disney prexy/COO Robert Iger has also stepped up his involvement in ABC’s series development.

Network insiders, however, argue that ABC’s recent ratings problems have more to do with development decisions rather than the number of people making those decisions.

While Bornstein won’t be directly replaced, exactly how his responsibilities will be divvied up remains unclear.

Wallau continues to have direct oversight of ABC’s news, sports, daytime and entertainment divisions. He had reported to Bornstein; for now, he’ll report directly to Iger.

It’s possible Iger will bring in another exec between himself and Wallau, though that exec would not have the same portfolio as Bornstein.

ABC has had problems in recent years holding on to a top dog. Bornstein replaced Robert Callahan last April; Callahan had held the spot for barely a year. Pat Fili-Krushel held a similar post before Callahan.

Bornstein did not return a call seeking comment, but he issued a statement noting his “good fortune of having some very challenging and rewarding positions with ESPN, ABC and the Walt Disney Co. There are other interests I wish to pursue and now is an appropriate time to do this.”

Iger said Bornstein “was instrumental in the development of numerous cable and online businesses, and played key roles in the enormous success of ESPN and the successful launch of the ABC Family Channel. We appreciate all that he has done … and wish him well,” he said.

Bornstein’s most recent run at ABC was actually his second in a top post at the network. He had a brief stint as ABC Inc. prexy just before taking over as head of Disney’s troubled internet division in 1999.

Before that, Bornstein spent nearly 20 years at ESPN, including 10 as CEO of the cabler. He helped launch ESPN 2, ESPN Classic and ESPN Radio, all the while buiding the sports cabler into one of the top brand names in entertainment.

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