In a dramatic bid to speed along the integration of Disney’s TV and Internet assets, the Mouse House on Wednesday tapped ABC Inc. prexy Steven Bornstein to become chairman of its Buena Vista Internet Group and lead the division’s upcoming Go.com Web business.
The appointment is somewhat surprising since Bornstein, who became a Disney superstar by transforming ESPN into a cable sports powerhouse, was upped to head of ABC Inc. earlier this year.
Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, however, has placed a premium on growing the company’s Internet assets, and Bornstein’s skills as a ground-floor biz builder make him a logical choice for the position, industry analysts said.
In his new post, Bornstein will oversee Disney’s efforts to merge newly acquired search service Infoseek with the Mouse House’s own popular Web sites to form Go.com, a separate Internet business it plans to take public. In January, Infoseek and Disney launched popular portal GO Network.
Bornstein said he was not looking to ankle ABC, and described his appointment as a sign that the television and Internet businesses are converging at a rapid clip.
“The viewing of television will have a major Internet component in the future, even if you don’t always watch TV on a computer,” Bornstein told Daily Variety. “This is just the next step in the evolution of our business.”
Added one Disney insider: “This is a recognition that the company’s Internet assets are becoming so important, they needed to make this commitment of people and resources.”
While Bornstein did not have a long tenure at ABC, he said his time at the Alphabet web will prove to be “invaluable” as he tries to merge Disney’s TV and Internet brands into one Internet powerhouse.
He also believes ABC may have turned the corner in recent months — securing an NFL compensation deal with affils, settling a long labor dispute with NABET and successfully launching the “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” gameshow.
BVIG operates family, entertainment, news and sports Web sites including Disney.com, Family.com, ABC.com, and ESPN.com, the Disney Store Online, the Disney Travel site, ESPN Store Online, Mr. Showbiz and the official sites of the NFL, NBA, NASCAR and WNBA.
Finished by year’s end
The merger of the various Internet assets is expected to be completed by the end of the year, after which Disney plans to issue a tracking stock for the new company. At that time, Bornstein, who is currently a member of the Infoseek board of directors, will be named prexy of Go.com.
Steve Wadsworth, prexy of BVIG, and Patrick Naughton, executive veep, products for Infoseek, will report to Bornstein, who Eisner said “brings invaluable experience and a broad range of skills to his new position: entrepreneur, new-media pioneer, television executive, strategist and business leader.”
Bornstein replaces Jake Winebaum, who ankled his post as chairman in June to form new Internet business incubator eCompanies.
ABC Group chairman Bob Iger said an announcement on Bornstein’s replacement is forthcoming. Insiders expect Iger to take his time making a decision.
Early ESPN days
Bornstein joined ESPN Inc. as manager of programming four months after the network was launched in 1980. He was named prexy and CEO of ESPN in 1990.
He was named corporate veep of Capital Cities/ABC Inc. in 1993 and was made prexy of ABC Sports in 1996.
Bornstein was named prexy of ABC Inc. in February.