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Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023

Leading the Way in a New Era of Television

Named “Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment” by The Hollywood Reporter, one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune, and one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes, Anne Sweeney has a pivotal role in the world of television. As co-chair Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group she is responsible for The Walt Disney Company’s television entertainment and news across the globe. This includes the ABC Television Network, which provides programming through more than 200 affiliated stations across the country and the 94 Disney channels available in 163 countries. She also oversees cable networks ABC Family and SOAPnet, as well as Disney’s publishing imprint, Hyperion and the company’s equity interest in Lifetime Entertainment Services and A&E Television Network. Forging ahead in what she calls a new era in the evolution of media, Disney has sought opportunities to reach out to audiences across new platforms under her leadership. From the landmark iTunes deal back in 2005 to the decision to stream ad supported shows on the ABC.com player, and most recently on Hulu, Disney has sought to deepen and expand its relationship with viewers, she said. With the success of shows like “Lost”, Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives” and “Dancing with the Stars”, many of which are now available via the Internet, Disney has carved out a reputation for quality content, which the company hopes to continue in the future, she said. This season, ABC is betting on its 8 new comedies and dramas. As the world of media evolves, so too must the ways in which viewership is measured across the different platforms, she said. Sweeney recently joined executives from U.S. television content providers, media agencies and advertisers to form the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) in an effort to promote innovation and explore new, high quality ways to measure audiences across traditional and new media. Question: With the start of a new television season how is ABC using its programming to set itself apart from the other networks? Answer:I think ABC has always been a very smart and experimental company long before I joined and I think one of the things that has set us apart recently is our utilization of new platforms for delivering programming to our audience. That has really distinguished us. From 2005 when we did the first deal with iTunes to today where we now have iTunes, ABC.com, Hulu and a number of platforms in other countries, we’ve always been focused on our consumer and focused on serving them better through the use of new technology. Q: ABC has explored new ways of distributing content through iTunes, Hulu and the ABC.com player, how does this fit in to the organization’s overall strategy? A: We’ve always been platform agnostic, for lack of a better term. Someone in our organization coined the phrase ‘consumer content connectors’. [All the digital devices out there] are really opportunities for us to deepen our relationship with viewers. We don’t see this as fighting for our business in the face of new technology. It’s very much about figuring out the best ways to use these new platforms to stay relevant and connected to our audience. Q: Is online viewer migration and DVR, hurting or helping? What strategic changes are in store for the future? A: TV still rules by a mile. And as the number of screens that viewers use to see our content increases so actually does the time that they spend with good old fashioned television. In 2009 I think the statistic was viewers watched approximately 149 hours of television a month and that compared to about three and a quarter hours of videos that they saw on the Internet. And it’s the same on mobile phones. The other thing to know is that the more platforms that became available for people to view content, the more people actually watched television last year versus this year. Q: So television isn’t going anywhere? A: TV is healthy, in fact it’s interesting …we had started ABC.com in May of 2006 and had learned a great deal about how our long form shows would perform on the Internet. We learned a lot about the audience, we found out they were more female than male, that they were roughly 15 to 20 years younger than people who were only watching them on television. And then when we looked at Hulu we found it was a very different kind of platform. It was more for the casual viewer, and it was more male than female, also very young. So again we see all of these platforms as great opportunities to get our content to our viewers. Q: Tell me about the relevance of CIMM and what you see as the current and future potential of new methods for cross-platform media measurement. A: We helped create CIMM because quite frankly we’re in a new era in the evolution of media and we know that consumers can enjoy our content in more ways than they ever have before …so in order to continue to support our content through advertising we need to be able to measure viewing on all of these platforms and at the same time we need to be able to capture data about these different devices. So the goal of CIMM is really to promote innovation in television and cross platform measurements. Q: Like other television groups Disney-ABC TV went through layoffs and structural reorganizations earlier this year as a result of the weakening economy, how significant has the impact of the recession been and has it forced the organization to move in new and different directions going into the future? A: I think what the recession did was to reinforce the reality that we always need to be laser focused on our consumers and really know and understand what they want from our businesses and then deliver it to them in the most efficient way possible. It also forced us to look at our business through a new lens – one that really demands an even greater attention to the fiscal side of the equation as well as the creative. I’m very fortunate I have a team in place that is laser focused on our business, on our consumers, and really bolded their speed and got into it. It’s not easy for anyone but the recession has taught us some very valuable lessons. Q: What is your vision for Disney/ABC Television Group’s future? A: My vision is that we continue to look at ourselves as a studio that produces content for kids, for the people we call Millennials (these 18 to 24-year-olds), for our ABC audience, for our soap opera fans, and make sure that what we are delivering to them is programming that they want and that they look forward to. And that vision extends to really pull forward all of the technology that is available to us and again make sure that the companies that we work with have great consumer brands, present a great user experience and a distinct value proposition for our consumers …and that these companies – and this is very important to us- respect content protection and intellectual property. Q: What is the most significant change that the organization has undertaken in recent years that has helped define its trajectory for the coming years? A: It would have to be the deal that we did with Apple to be part of the iTunes store that had launched video in October of 2005. That was a key change not just in our business but in the way we thought about our business. We all had iPods, we all loved them, we were all downloading music, and when the opportunity presented itself it was easy to understand for us, but it was also a huge leap. It was something that no other media company had done and that’s really what inspired us to move faster on ABC.com and to not be afraid of the platforms that were made available to us but to take advantage of them to reach our consumers in new ways. Q: How is kids programming changing, and what does that mean for the future? A: I remember years ago animation was really what people called kids programming and I think Disney Channel and now our new Disney XD have really changed that definition. When I look at all of the great work that [Disney Channel President] Rich Ross and Gary Marsh [President, Entertainment, Disney Channel Worldwide] have done to introduce live action programming and music to tweens (the 9-14 year-olds) it does speak to the innovation that we’re so proud of at the company. I think you’ll see our children’s business continue to focus on some of the great franchises they’ve already built like Hannah Montana and High School Musical and also go on to produce new ones. Q: What trends do you see? A: Kids are the ones that set the trends for us. They’re the ones that we probably spend the most amount of time with. I think the trends we’ll see are their use of platforms and we’ll be tracking the platforms that they choose to go to, and we’ll be tracking how they access our content. Q: Television content — where is it headed, what overall trends do you see? A: Tough to know. We’re just in night number three of the new season so it’s a little bit too early to see programming trends. Q: Any thoughts on NBC giving an hour of prime time to Jay Leno and how closely is your network watching how the show does? A: It’s really a wait and see. He’s only a week in so it’s really too early to judge. It’s certainly a strategy that they wanted to pursue. Q: Where do you see potential for growth? A:I think we see opportunities everywhere. We see it in our international businesses, we’ve been launching Disney Channels around the world, most recently central Europe went up … so we see tremendous growth outside of the United States for our Disney business. I see growth at ABC Family who’s had a tremendous amount of success. [ABC Family President] Paul Lee and his team have done a fantastic job of identifying really the ultimate creative talent …Secret Life of the American Teenager, Greek, Make it or Break It, are just a few shows that have really resonated with this age group. In other growth areas, we’ve talked a lot about technology, really seeing what comes down the road next that really helps us get our content to market, and helps us connect with our consumers. ABC news worked very well with Facebook during the election, and also worked with Facebook again during the Michael Jackson funeral, so again looking at technology as a means to have a more immediate relationship with our consumers. Q: What are your thoughts on taking risks? A: I think it’s critical that we take risks. Certainly on the creative side of the business, in the way we run the business and also on the technology front, risks create a lot of innovation. Q: What are your guiding principles for success? A: I really have just one and that is to hire the smartest people I can find, set the goals with them, and then let them do their jobs. It’s worked for me for a long time and actually makes my work life a very exciting and rewarding place. Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job? A: It’s probably staying relevant to our consumers; making sure we have our finger on their pulse, that we know what they’re about, and we know what they’re facing – that we have a sense of what’s going on in their world. Q: What do you love most about your job? A: Probably that no two days are ever the same, I have a different challenge or a different opportunity everyday, which is one of the things I love. And I truly love the people I work with. They’re smart, and creative, and innovative, they’re brave and they’re willing to tackle just about anything.

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