Disney integrates European TV ops


The Mouse House is undergoing an extreme makeover of its European TV operations, arguably becoming the first Hollywood studio to fully integrate its programming sales, channel carriage operations and new-media partnerships under one umbrella and one top executive.

This new edifice will be led by Tom Toumazis, whose title is executive vp and managing director of Disney-ABC International Television for Europe, the Mideast, Africa and Canada. Based out of London, he will continue to report to Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney-ABC Worldwide TeleĀ¬vision & Disney Media Networks.

Essentially, the new entity will group the channels and program distribution teams and pool resources from the Disney Channel, ESPN and Disney-ABC International Television in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Although Disney does not break out its revenue from international TV deals, analysts reckon the haul from its overseas operations is $2.5 billion-$3 billion a year, boosted in recent sessions by strong license fees from such hit shows as "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Ugly Betty" as well as localized TV versions of "High School Musical" and ratings phenoms on Disney Channel abroad for "Hannah Montana." Toumazis' region accounts for about 70% of the overall foreign TV haul.

"Tom has an exemplary track record in leading our program distribution business to success in these key markets, and he is the ideal executive to lead our new integrated team across both content and channel distribution," Pyne said. The Burbank-based Pyne, who took the international TV baton eight months ago, had in his previous role at Disney helped integrate programming, affiliate sales and marketing at ESPN and ABC and clearly believes similar logic can be effectively applied to foreign operations.

The fact that Disney is setting the pace in terms of scale with this Eurocentric revamp is not surprising in that its international TV operations have historically had a distinctly European feel. The division's top executives have been based in London while international TV division bosses at the other majors work out of Los Angeles.

Toumazis put the accent on the strength of the company's brands and franchises abroad and the need to service overseas TV customers with "clarity and speed," arguing that the new structure would help "create a best-in-class distribution division."

"With properties like 'Hannah Montana' and 'High School Musical,' we learned to coordinate and collaborate across divisions, but now we need to more completely integrate our strategies and activities," Toumazis told The Hollywood Reporter.

The changes will take effect in April and will involve sales teams from Disney's European, Mideast and African TV businesses, including Disney Channel, ESPN and the programming sales unit Disney-ABC International TV, forming one group, with three sub-teams: program distribution, channel distribution and new media. Jetix Europe, another channel targeted at boys, is in discussions regarding its involvement in the revamp.

Responsibilities will span all platforms, including terrestrial, pay, cable/satellite, telco and IPTV, and across all technologies, including PPV, DTT, VOD, broadband and mobile.

Toumazis said he would soon name lieutenants across finance and marketing, new media and channel distribution as well as program sales. He said he will work closely with the Disney Channel and ESPN teams in the region led by John Hardie and Lynne Frank, respectively.

Disney has 24 Disney-branded channels and eight ESPN channels in the region; Jetix Europe has 15 outlets in the same area.

Under Toumazis' leadership, the size of Disney's TV business in the region has doubled during the past four years, though execs would not be drawn on precise revenue. He has driven major free-TV, pay and digital media agreements with partners across Europe and has played a key role in growing the business in such developing markets as Russia, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Africa.

Although other U.S. studios have now caught up (or have their own firsts to boast in the digital realm), Disney was the first Hollywood player to license content to Channel 4's VOD service 4OD in the U.K. and the first to license SVOD content to ProSiebenSat.1's Maxdome in Germany. Toumazis has championed the shortening of TV windows for network series, bringing "Lost" to viewers of the TF1 Vision VOD service in France less than 24 hours after its American broadcast. British satcaster Sky One now offers Disney/ABC network series four days after their U.S. launch.

Toumazis, a Brit who started his career at the ITV commercial broadcaster in the U.K., joined Disney in October 2001.