Padden takes reins at ABC

NEW YORK — Longtime News Corp. exec Preston Padden was named president of the ABC Television Network Wednesday, more than a week after he began working there.

Succeeding David Westin, now ABC News president, Padden will oversee many of the typical TV-network functions, including affiliate relations, sales, public relations and broadcast engineering and operations. He’ll also fill the first senior post that oversees both Washington lobbying and digital TV policy (Daily Variety, May 12).

Unlike Westin, however, Padden won’t supervise the marketing and research departments, which along with network programming chiefs, stations and cable execs will now report directly to ABC president Robert Iger.

In a statement, Iger praised Padden’s “strong experience and leadership skills,” and said his “background is perfect for this position.”

Padden, who will be formally introduced to affiliates next week in Orlando, Fla., brushed off questions about his role in helping ABC overcome its primetime woes, noting “nobody ever hired me for my creative sense.”

Instead, he will take a business-side approach, with particular emphasis on “taking the ABC network and its affiliates into the future of digital TV.” After much “tinkering around,” Padden said, finally “we have the chance to reinvent television.”

Padden, 48, for the last 18 months has been prexy of News Corp.’s fledgling ASkyB sat-TV operation. He resigned May 1 when Rupert Murdoch’s then-pending merger with EchoStar Communications “left me without an operating job,” Padden said. “He didn’t have another operating job, and ABC did, so here I am.” Iger, who had begun negotiations with Padden over carriage of ABC stations on ASkyB, approached him early this month.

Contractual issues are said to have complicated the transition, sources said, but didn’t prove a stumbling block. The newly restructured job no longer includes any responsibility for programming, which had been pared away under Westin, and now more closely mirrors similar positions held by Neil Braun at NBC and Jim Warner at CBS.

He’d served in several posts at Fox Broadcasting since 1990, including government and affiliate relations posts. “At Fox we were trying to forge a startup network,” Padden said. “This is a very different environment and there’s going to be a much different focus to my efforts.”

“It’s a grave error to presume he’s going to be Attila the Hun,” agreed Alan Bell, president of ABC affil owner Freedom Broadcasting. “ABC’s need is for loyalty and affection and patience on its affiliate body, rather than to inflict torture and thumbscrews.”

Padden reported for work on May 20, a day after ABC presented its fall schedule to advertisers, and is based in New York, although his family will remain in Washington.

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