Ben Sherwood Recommits to "Even Greater" Diverse Programming at ABC

Victoria Will

"The customer and viewer of today isn’t necessarily the customer and viewer of tomorrow. We must keep pace," says the Disney TV exec.

Ben Sherwood emphasized a focus on diversity with programming that resonates with all viewers, speaking Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas.

Sherwood, who took over as co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney|ABC Television Group a year ago, noted that his predecessor Anne Sweeney and former ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee (who was pushed out in February) “set in motion [the move to offer] programming to reflect this country.”

He added that with Channing Dungey (who was named to Lee’s post), "I think you'll see that’s even greater. … and it makes broadcasting strong. We speak to everyone, and the content needs to reflect that.”

Sherwood added that showrunner Shonda Rhimes doesn’t seek out diverse casting on her shows such as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy as a strategy, but rather because it reflects the people in the stories. “Our purpose is to tell stories that resonate with all Americans," he agreed. "The customer and viewer of today isn’t necessarily the customer and viewer of tomorrow. We must keep pace."

During his keynote, Sherwood received enthusiastic applause when he asserted that "most important for Disney/ABC is to make the case that the creators of great content deserve to be fairly compensated for the great stuff that they make."

To that end, NAB president/CEO Gordon Smith, who interviewed Sherwood on stage, pointed to the organization's efforts on retransmission fees, saying "we are fighting very hard to give you the right to control your content and its value."

Sherwood added, "We support your efforts and are fully behind you."

He also discussed the competition amid a changing broadcast landscape. “We know the ratings are declining and feel the competition," Sherwood said, "but broadcasting is still the only way into every single home in the U.S. We speak to 120 million households and all 300 million Americans. That is our competitive advantage.”

He added, though, that with advancing technology, there are now 25 ways to watch a single video: “Some are smart, some are more devious."

Sherwood also pointed to lessons learned from his boss, Bob Iger: “Everything is changing, we don’t know where we’re going, but we can’t stand still. … Bob’s call to action echoes in this room 18 years later.”

Sherwood urged broadcasters to “build community and connection in this age of fragmentation,” to keep a “relentless focus on innovation” and to “make great stuff — storytelling is timeless.”   

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