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Handler tops new Disney telco unit

Walt Disney Co. has created a new unit to work with the studio’s programming alliance with Baby Bells Ameritech, BellSouth and Southwestern Bell.

The mandate of Disney Tele Ventures, Disney said, is to “focus company resources to fulfill the creative, programming, marketing and technology functions” Disney will provide to its telco partners.

Mark Handler, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Disney Channel, has been named president of the new arm.

But the search for a CEO to run the partnership, first announced almost a year ago, is still ongoing. According to Disney, Handler’s division will work within Disney but not directly with any of the telco partners. Structurally, while Disney exec VP-corporate affairs John Cooke continues as the studio’s chief liaison to the telco partnership, Handler reports to Dennis Hightower, president of Walt Disney Television & Telecommunications.

It is unclear how the new division will work with the telco partners once a CEO is installed, but it may solve one sticky problem for Disney.

Handler and other Disney Channel executives had been trying to meet with other cable networks to discuss carriage agreements with the telcos, who serve 50 million customers in 19 states. However, rival networks didn’t want to open their books to Disney Channel executives and criticized Disney for their approach.

Now, with a new division that apparently has no association with the Disney Channel, Handler & Co. can resume their road trips to other cable networks. Handler would not comment on Disney’s first approach to cable networks but confirmed he will start meeting with programmers again.

Under the terms of the alliance, Disney is to provide programming for the telcos’ video dialtone systems, which have the potential to bring service to 50 million homes.

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