Fueled by robust subscriber growth over the past several
years, Disney/ABC Cable Networks has created a new layer of management that will provide
dedicated resources for each of the unit's wholly owned networks -- Disney Channel,
Toon Disney and its soap-opera channel, which is set to launch in January.
Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Cable and Disney
Channel, announced the appointments of four Disney Channel executives to new spots: Eleo
Hensleigh to executive vice president, marketing; Patrick Lopker to executive vice
president and chief financial officer; Peter Cullen to vice president, new business
development; and Dina Weinberg to vice president, media relations. They will report to
"Previously, every department was involved with every
network. As these networks grew, they've come to require more individual
attention," Sweeney said.
This unit's mandate will be twofold. First of all, it
will provide dedicated manpower to each of the existing networks. It will also develop the
creation of new network brands for Disney.
For example, a marketing person in this group will work
exclusively for one of the existing networks, reporting to that particular network head,
as well as reporting to Hensleigh on new brand development.
One associated effect from the establishment of this new
tier of executives will be the creation of general-manager posts for each of the three
Concurrently, Sweeney also announced that one of these GM
slots, for Disney Channel, would be filled by Rich Ross, who was named GM and executive
vice president, programming and production, and who will also report to Sweeney. Ross had
been senior vice president of programming and production for the network, and he will hang
on to that role, in addition to his new duties.
Sweeney was not worried that Ross would be spread too thin.
"He's fully capable, and he is backed up by a good team," she said.
Ross was credited with the development and production of
such acclaimed programs as Bug Juice, So Weird, The Famous Jett Jackson
and the In Concert series, which featured musical stars such as Brandy and LeAnn
Rimes. Sweeney said she hopes to have the other two GM posts filled within a year.
With all of these managerial moves, Sweeney also confirmed
that the company will be doing a good deal of hiring at less senior levels. She would not
reveal any numbers in terms of future head count.
Disney Channel's distribution has shot up from 4
million households in 1996 to 52 million currently. It started out as a premium channel,
and it has been transitioned into a basic offering.
Toon Disney launched in April 1998 with 5 million homes,
and it is now in 13 million.
Sweeney also said she is optimistic about the launch of the
soap-opera channel, which will have the benefit of ABC's extensive library of soaps.
She added that MSOs have reacted favorably to the concept, and it has been testing well in
consumer focus groups.
Disney/ABC Cable's holdings also include partial
equity in Lifetime Television, Lifetime Movie Network, E! Entertainment Television,
A&E Network, The History Channel and The Biography Channel.