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Disney Puts Longtime ESPN Exec Russell Wolff in Charge of ESPN+ Streaming Service

Russell Wolff, a 20-year veteran of ESPN, is taking over the reins of the sports programmer’s ESPN+ streaming service.

Wolff, as EVP and general manager of ESPN+, reports to Michael Paull, president of Disney Streaming Services (formerly referred to as BAMTech Media). Most recently, Wolff served as executive VP and managing director of ESPN International, where he was responsible for all of ESPN’s international businesses.

In the new role Wolff will be responsible for managing ESPN+ in conjunction with Walt Disney Co.’s Direct-to-Consumer and International (DTCI) segment and ESPN. In addition, he’s tasked with collaborating on the overall management and commercialization of ESPN-branded digital products.

Launched in April, ESPN+ is Disney’s first foray into direct-to-consumer entertainment. The service costs $4.99 per month (or $49.99 per year), providing access to thousands of additional live sports events not carried on ESPN’s TV networks, as well as original shows and series including the entire ”30 for 30″ documentary series.

Last month, ESPN announced that ESPN+ had surpassed 1 million subs in just five months. That came after ESPN shifted customers of its 20-year-old ESPN Insider subscription service to ESPN+ in August. According to ESPN, the addition of the ESPN Insider user base accounted for “a minority” of the ESPN+ audience.

“ESPN+ is off to a fantastic start as the fastest growing consumer sports streaming service in the market and Russell’s deep understanding of the ESPN brand and experience across all aspects of the media landscape will bring even more velocity to the service,” Paull said in a statement. “His strong business acumen and exceptional leadership qualities make him the perfect leader to advance the growth of ESPN+ as we continue to evolve the service.”

Wolff commented: “ESPN+ is in the first inning of a very long game. There is a tremendous opportunity to grow the service and expand our position as the leading streaming service and provider of digital products for sports fans.”

In a separate exec shuffle earlier this month, Aaron LaBerge, previously ESPN’s chief technology officer, was appointed to the new role of EVP and CTO of Disney’s Direct-To-Consumer and International unit.

With Wolff moving out of his role heading up ESPN International, the regional general managers of the ESPN International businesses will report directly into DTCI’s regional leadership outside of the U.S. The content, programming and production teams for ESPN International will continue to report directly into ESPN.

As head of ESPN International, Wolff led ESPN’s digital expansion globally, which included more than a dozen localized editions of ESPN.com and the ESPN app, the ESPNFC soccer vertical, ESPNCricinfo cricket vertical, and ESPN’s streaming platforms including WatchESPN. He also drove the expansion of ESPN’s businesses in Latin America.

Wolff first joined ESPN International in 1997 as a VP managing the company’s business interests in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1998, he joined ESPN Star Sports as VP of programming and event management and was later promoted to SVP. Wolff returned to ESPN proper in 2000 as SVP overseeing programming, marketing, and the company’s businesses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. With his move to oversee ESPN+, Wolff will continue to lead ESPN’s involvement with the Special Olympics.

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