Disney's Anne Sweeney Talks Successor, Online Pay TV Services

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LONDON – Anne Sweeney, the Walt Disney Co.'s longtime Disney Media Networks co-chair and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, on Wednesday discussed her successor Ben Sherwood and the outlook for the TV industry at a conference here.

Asked by THR on the sidelines of the Financial Times Digital Media Conference about the appointment of ABC News head Sherwood as her successor earlier this week, Sweeney said she was "thrilled."

Sweeney announced in THR two weeks ago that she was leaving her post to direct TV shows.

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During her Wednesday conference appearance, Sweeney said she had nothing more to announce yet. Asked what she may direct, she said: "Let's just hope I get to direct a show. I have a lot of fantastic mentors who have offered to have me come on the show and shadow them."

Sweeney also discussed the opportunities of what she called the "creative transformation" of television in the digital age rather than the much-feared "creative destruction."

She said that instead of fighting digital change, at Disney "we embraced it," explaining that the management team led by CEO Robert Iger first saw the potential for it when Steve Jobs showed them ABC hit show Lost on an iPad.

She argued that focus on innovation goes back to 1936 when Disney approached the BBC and broke the film industry's unofficial embargo on content made available for TV, offering two Mickey Mouse cartoons a day.

With the digital age reinventing the entire TV industry, there is unparalleled access to content and raised expectations, Sweeney said, citing forecasts that by 2016, there would be nearly 1 billion tablets in use worldwide.

IPad users watch 60 percent more video than computer users, with smartphone users watching 40 percent more, she said, citing stats.

Asked about Disney's deal to acquire Maker Studios for up to $950 million, Sweeney said, "It's astonishing the rate of growth of short-form video." She added: "This was an opportunity to harness some great capabilities in both programming and technology."

Discussing a recent Dish-Disney content licensing deal that gives Dish the right to use Disney programming as part of an online pay TV service, Sweeney said that Dish can work with other content companies "to eventually offer a digital-only offer."

For such a possibility and tablet use, cross-platform measurement of viewership is key, Sweeney said. Saying media companies would all benefit from getting the "complete picture of who's watching their content, when and on what device," she said, "it will be good for the entire industry."

Overall, she said she was excited about the "incredible future for TV," saying that future Oscar broadcasts could see added insight for viewers by allowing them to follow the action on the red carpet or the street on their tablets.

Ads for objects in a TV show's scene and customized digital channels are among the possibilities, meaning that TV in the future "will be immersive."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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