Bob Iger made good on his promise to move quickly in name a successor for Anne Sweeney. ABC News president Ben Sherwood will take the reins as Disney/ABC Television Group early next year after Sweeney steps down.
Sherwood was a front-runner for the job ever since Sweeney shocked industry on March 11 when she announced she was resigning as of January to pursue a career as a television director.
Sherwood, who was on Variety’s shortlist of possible Sweeney successors, steered the rise of “Good Morning America,” and brokered deals like a partnership with Yahoo. He was also known to harbor career goals beyond the news biz. He will also serve as co-chairman of Disney Media Networks alongside ESPN’s John Skipper.
“Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” said Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger. “He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of ‘GMA,’ the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
The vacancy at the top of Disney’s TV arm spurred all manner of speculation about possible shifts in Disney hierarchy. But Iger has made a straightforward exec swap and has no plans to restructure disparate divisions or give immediate expansions of responsibility to other TV wing insiders.
Sherwood told Variety he would draw on his training as a journalist to prepare himself for the job during the transition period.
“I’m going to use the same skills any journalist would use this type of role: Ask a lot of questions, dig deeply and learn a lot about (people) and then come up with plans to build on the many strengths of the Disney/ABC TV Group.”
Sherwood, who is on his third tour of duty at ABC News, said his experience managing the news division for the past three-plus years has helped him realize how much the traditional television business needs to adapt to technological changes, shifts in the nature of the U.S. audience and in the way viewers consume content. The decision to launch Fusion, the joint cable/online venture with Univision Communications aimed at Latino millennials, amounts to Disney putting a stake in the ground to reach a generation that he called “digital natives.”
Although there is much disruption, Sherwood sees it as a time of great promise for established media players.
“A while ago when someone remarked that the sky is falling on traditional media, Bob used a phrase that is quite compelling in terms of describing the atmosphere for content creativity, distribution and the consumer experience: the sky is rising,” Sherwood said. “That idea is very much the anthem for what we feel about the future here. In this time of disruption there’s great opportunity. Our job is to adapt to changing times and embrace shifts in consumer behavior. We want to prove that the sky is rising, not falling.”
Sherwood’s primary internal competitor for the job was said to be Paul Lee, ABC Entertainment Group president. Iger has been vocal about his continued confidence in Lee despite ABC’s wobbly performance the past two seasons.
Sherwood has been at the helm of ABC News since December 2010. He began his career at the Alphabet in 1989 as a producer on newsman “Primetime Live” and other shows. He left in 1997 to join “NBC Nightly News.”