When Ben Sherwood returned to ABC News for a third stint in 2010, this time as president of the division, he did so at the behest of Anne Sweeney, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group.
On Monday, Disney announced that Sherwood had been tapped by chairman and CEO Bob Iger to succeed Sweeney as caretaker of all Disney's non-sports television efforts worldwide. He will take the reins fully in February, 2015, when Sweeney departs to pursue a career as a television director.
"The transition that Bob Iger and Anne have conceived basically means that I will work very closely with Anne over the months ahead," Sherwood told B&C, adding that Sweeney provided essential support through some of the biggest achievements at ABC News during Sherwood's tenure, such as the ascension of Good Morning America to the top of the network morning-show ratings and the negotiation of a partnership between the news division and Yahoo. "There are things that I know and things that I do not know about this sprawling portfolio within the Disney/ABC media group, and so I have quite a bit to learn. We're going to be working very closely on all of that."
Sherwood said that his top two priorities now are to ensure a smooth transition with Sweeney and to name a successor at ABC News. He added that there is no date set by which he plans to announce a new news chief.
Iger first spoke with Sherwood about the position after Sweeney announced two weeks ago that she would exit the post early next year. A series of conversations followed, culminating in a very Disney moment.
"My family went to Disney World last week for a holiday — a well-timed Disney World vacation, as opposed to, say, Universal Studios or something like that," Sherwood said. "That was a joke. So we were on vacation, I think we had actually just come off the Space Mountain ride, when I received some communication that indicated that this was going to happen."
Asked whether Iger also spoke to female candidates or candidates from diverse backgrounds, Sherwood said that he had no direct knowledge, but added, "I'm confident that he did. I know that's the succession-planning process at the company."
Disney also on Monday announced that it had reached an agreement to purchase digital-video company Maker Studios — a network of 55,000 YouTube channels with 380 million subscribers—for $500 million. Sherwood said that it would be "presumptuous" to discuss the Maker deal just a few hours after the announcement of his promotion, but added generally that "digital distribution and short-form video are obviously very important parts of the media future."
Sherwood also expressed confidence in more traditional media.
"I think that broadcast television has an incredibly bright future," he said. He added that he spoke Monday to ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee — speculated by multiple media outlets as a possible contender to succeed Sweeney — at a staff meeting Monday. "We greeted each other warmly," he said. "I think he's a very talented, very bright executive. I think that he's had his share of hits. I know he's primed for more in the future, and I'm excited to see the upcoming development cycle and what the future holds."
In addition to his working as a producer in network news, Sherwood has also written three novels — one published under a pseudonym and one book of non-fiction. Asked how those experiences will guide his approach to the job, he said, "I come at it first and foremost as a journalist. That's my background. But also as a storyteller." He added, "I certainly have an eclectic background, but it all kind of comes together in telling stories, fiction and non-fiction, in creative and compelling ways."
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