MIPCOM's Personality of the Year: Anne Sweeney Addresses TV's Digital Age, Lessons Learned (Q&A)

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Five questions for the Disney/ABC Television Group president.

Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney, 53, is the first woman to be honored as MIPCOM's Personality of the Year on Oct. 5. In 15 years at Disney, her posts have included  president of the ABC network and executive vp of the Disney/ABC cable networks, and she now oversees 101 international channels. Sweeney recently discussed the rapidly changing global TV sector with THR senior editor Alex Ben Block. 

The Hollywood Reporter: Why do you have so many channels around the world and do you really need all of them?

Anne Sweeney: No, I think what we need are strong brands, and channels are really expressions of the Disney brand. All of these channels are designed as the touch point for the Walt Disney Co. in the home.

THR: Are digital platforms an important part of the future?

Sweeney: Very important. Our company has been very forward-thinking about digital technology and the opportunity that it gives us. As we move into a world where we have more and more devices at our disposal, that really means more and more opportunities for the Walt Disney Co. to reach you: through our entertainment, through all of our divisions.

THR: What lessons have you learned about the digital age?

Sweeney: The most important lesson I learned was probably at the end of that first season of Desperate Housewives. The May 2005 finale was stupendous. In our staff meeting, one executive said, "Do you mind if I pop in a DVD?" It was the Desperate Housewives finale. I said, "Where did this come from?" And he said, "This was available for download on a pirate site five minutes after it concluded on the East Coast, stripped of all of its commercials." That was the greatest lesson to me: If we don't keep honest people honest, or if we don't control the windowing of our own product, -- whether it is through electronic sell-through or through streaming that we've created on ABC.com or a streaming partner (like) Hulu -- we know we will see more piracy.

THR: How does social media change things?

Sweeney: More important to us right now is how it changes the conversation about our shows and how it helps us really cut through the clutter. ABC right now has 40 million Facebook fans who have this ongoing conversations about our shows and our network.

THR: What can we expect to hear in your keynote speech at MIPCOM?

Sweeney: I am going to focus on the future, on digital, what we've done, what we've learned. And what are the things we need to be thinking about. My theme song is always: "Pay attention to your viewer. Follow them."