Anne Sweeney Exiting Disney-ABC to Become TV Director

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The executive is departing The Walt Disney Co. in January of 2015

Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, is exiting the company in January 2015 to pursue a career in television directing.

Calling the past 18 years at Disney the highlight of her executive career, Sweeney said “there has always been a nagging voice in the back of my head” to leave that comfort zone and move more directly into the creative realm. Sweeney acknowledged that the move might seem surprising, “but to me, it’s a long realized dream,” tipping her hat to Disney chair and CEO Bob Iger for his support.

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“I’ve been a part of an amazing evolution in our business and our industry, and have achieved far more than I ever thought possible,” Sweeney said in a statement accompanying Disney’s announcement of her departure. “But as wonderful as the experience has been, there has always been a nagging voice in the back of my head pushing me to step out of the comfort zone of the executive ranks and more directly into the creative arena that enticed me to TV in the first place.

“I finally listened to that voice and thought, ‘If not now, when?’ I know my decision to step back from all of this to learn the art of directing may seem surprising, but to me it’s a long realized dream.

“I am so thankful to Bob Iger for his leadership, guidance and his friendship over the years, and am grateful not only for his offer to remain with the company for many years to come, but his understanding and support of my decision to make this change,” she continued. “I’m excited to spend the remainder of this year positioning the TV Group for even greater success.”

Iger praised his outgoing exec, who joined the company in 1996 after 12 years at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, for her work growing Disney Channel, ABC Family and ABC.

“Since joining Disney, Anne has been a very successful executive in our senior ranks,” Iger said in a statement. “Over the years, she grew our Disney Channel business into a global powerhouse and the main brand driver of our Company around the world; built ABC Family into a top cable network here in the U.S.; made ABC a strong, successful content creation engine; and has been a great partner in leading our industry into the digital age.

“Anne’s collaborative spirit, genuine curiosity and unwavering support have been a constant, but it is her friendship that I most value,” he continued. “I applaud Anne for knowing what she wants out of life and for having the courage to follow her dream. We’re thrilled she’ll be with us through the end of the year, and look forward to having her direct one of our shows in the future.”

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Sweeney’s oversight has been far-reaching. She oversees the Walt Disney Co.’s global entertainment and news television properties, which include ABC Studios, the ABC Owned Television Stations Group and the ABC Television Network. That represents more more than 200 affiliated U.S. stations and tens-of-millions of viewers.

Add to that youth-focused ABC Family and the Disney Channels Worldwide, the family of networks including Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Disney Cinemagic, Hungama, and Radio Disney.

She’s also responsible for the company’s equity interest in A+E Networks, Fusion, and Hulu.

Sweeney is credited with much of Disney-ABC’s early adoption of digital platforms. It was one of the earliest of the media companies to put television content on new platforms, leveraging iTunes, an ad-supported full episode player online and on iPad.

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She joined the company in 1996 as president of Disney Channel and executive vice president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. Under her watch, Sweeney ushered Disney Channel to a 400% increase in subscribers; launched Toon Disney, which would later become Disney XD; and transitioned SOAPnet to Disney Junior this year.

Previously, Sweeney spent 12 years at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite in various executive positions, most recently as senior vice president of Program Enterprises. Among many accomplishments, she oversaw Nickelodeon’s international expansion, including launching the channel in the United Kingdom, resulting in a joint venture with British Sky Broadcasting.

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Sweeney has served as a board member of A&E Television Networks, the Paley Center for Media, the American Film Institute and the Special Olympics.

She earned a BA from The College of New Rochelle and an Ed. M. degree from Harvard University.