ABC ups Iger, regroups divisions

CapCities/ABC has embarked on a major corporate restructuringthat establishes four separate divisions within the company while positioning ABC TV Network Group prez Robert A. Iger as the clear frontrunner to succeed president-CEO Daniel B. Burke.

The changes include the elevation of Iger to hold the concurrent title of exec VP at CapCities/ABC Inc., reporting to Burke, as well as promotions for Stephen A. Weiswasser and David Westin.

Burke has stated his desire toyield his CEO post when he turns 65 in February , and the new structure would seem to provide a framework for keeping the reins of power in the hands of the company’s current executive roster.

The four units will now include the ABC TV Network Group, headed by Iger; CapCities/ABC Publishing Group, overseen by Phillip J. Meek; the CapCities/ABC Broadcast Group, responsible for the ABC-owned stations, headedby Michael P. Mallardi; and a newly formed CapCities//ABC Multimedia Group, responsible for new technologies as well as other miscellaneous areas, with Weiswasser — former ABC general counsel and until January exec VP of ABCNews — in charge of that unit.

Iger, 41, assumed his current post in January after nearly four years heading ABC Entertainment and was elected senior VP of CapCities/ABC in March. He now becomes the corporation’s sole exec VP behind Burke, with Meek, Mallardi and Weiswasser all holding senior VP stripes.

Any action to succeed Burke would be subject to approval by ABC’s 14-member board.

Burke, chairman and longtime partner Thomas Murphy and Fairchild Fashion & Merchandising Group exec VP John Fairchild are the only CapCities exex on the board, although the real key to a replacement for Burke may hinge on an OK from Warren Buffett, who controls roughly 20% of the company’s stock.

Buffett assistance

Buffett helped Burke and Murphy pull off the ABC acquisition in 1986 and agreed at the time to turn his voting power over to Murphy and Burke for as long as they ran the company.

It remains possible that an outsider could be tapped — particularly if CapCities were to engage in a major acquisition or merger — but governmental regulations regarding domestic syndication and network-cable cross-ownership restrict the list of potential partners.

In addition to looking to fortify its corporate structure, CapCities also reinforced Burke’s stated strategy to increase the web’s role in production and distribution with the promotion of Westin, currently the web’s general counsel, as president of production for the ABC TV Network Group — a newly created post consolidating all in-house production under his aegis.

Westin duties

Westin will oversee and seek to coordinate the activity of such entities as ABC Prods., ABC/Kane Prods. and all other web production arms. Heads of those divisions, including ABC Prods. prez Brandon Stoddard, will report to Westin, who in turn will report to Iger.

All changes are effective Sunday.

Burke seemed to allude to the succession issue in announcing the new structure, saying in a statement that the promotions “recognize the abilities and long-term potential of some very gifted executives.”

The reorganization, meanwhile, along with recent cable and international investments, “underscore the importance of in-house production and new media as targeted areas of growth for this company.”

ABC has been both outspoken and aggressive about its goal of increasing production. ABC Prods. has been the only network in-house unit to make programs for rival broadcast networks, and ABC made a concerted push to get in-house shows onto its fall schedule.

Expanding horizons

The company has also been diversifying its production scope, only last week announcing a partnership with DIC Animation City to create children’s programming ABC Distribution Co. will represent internationally (Daily Variety, July 26).

In his current capacity Iger oversees all divisions of the ABC TV Network, including entertainment, news, sports and sales.

He’s been at the web since 1974, joined the sports division two years later and worked through its ranks before becoming exec VP at the TV network group in 1988.

A year later, Iger was tapped to replace Stoddard as head of the entertainment division, a move seen by many as a means of grooming the exec for further advancement.

Well-traveled

Similarly, Weiswasser has been well-traveled within CapCities/ABC, becoming senior VP-general counsel in 1986 (spearheading network efforts regarding such issues as the financial interest and syndication rules) and exec VP at the TV network group before being named second-in-command at ABC News — a post designed to free division prez Roone Arledge from administrative concerns. Weiswasser’s expansive new responsibilities include such areas as computer technology; opportunities in interactive, pay-per-view and video-on-demand areas; CapCities/ABC Video Publishing, the homevideo business launched last year; and HDTV and digital television.

With Westin’s new programming oversight post, Weiswasser will again be responsible for legal and governmental affairs, appointing someone to oversee daily activities of the legal department.

Before joining the network he spent a dozen years at the D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.

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