Disney-ABC TV Chief Ben Sherwood Touts Iger’s Streaming Strategy at CES

Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, said that his division will be the largest contributor to Disney’s planned 2019 internet-video subscription service — and that the media conglomerate overall is well poised to manage the transition to next-generation TV.

“We’re going through this unbelievable moment of transformation in how we take television and distribute it,” said Sherwood, speaking at Variety‘s Entertainment Summit at CES 2018 on Wednesday.

Disney-ABC TV will supply 7,000-8,000 episodes from its library, plus 3-4 original series, and 3-4 original movies. That will include an original series based on Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise, with the original producers on board, Sherwood said.

Sherwood, who was interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein, declined to comment on the pending acquisition by Disney of 20th Century Fox assets, including cable networks. Disney CEO Bob Iger has “laid out the strategic vision” for the deal, “and we’ll leave it at that.”

The Disney-ABC TV exec also called out the biggest change in morning television, when several “very brave women” came forward and told their stories about sexual harassment from male talent.

“It’s a very important moment, not only in television but in society,” Sherwood said, noting that the morning news programs form NBC (absent Matt Lauer) and CBS (absent Charlie Rose) have both lost their male anchors.

“That said, the battle of the morning is every day, five days a wek, plus weekends,” Sherwood said. “We’re in for a long period of battle for morning television, but I like ‘GMA’s’ chances.”

Asked about the challenges facing traditional TV — with declining viewership — Sherwood responded, “Every decade, the obituaries are written about television. In my view, the sky is not falling. The sky is rising.”

Sherwood added, “People sometimes mistake watching the television on the wall for television as distribution. There are lots of different ways to distribute the best content.”

The typical American watches 5 hours and 29 minutes of video content per day. “If we continue to make great stuff, we’ll be able to get our fair share of that,” Sherwood said. “People will be watching more television than ever in the ways it’s distributed to them.”

Meanwhile, Sherwood recalled that when the deal between Shonda Rhimes — a longtime producer with ABC Studios — was announced with Netflix last year, “I got a call from my 86-year-old mother asking me if I was OK.”

He pointed out that ABC is still Rhimes’ broadcast home, with five shows on the air or in development. “Our hope is her work is going to be on ABC for some time, even as I go binge on whatever she creates for Netflix.”

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