The Mouse House is getting a global TV distribution makeover in the wake of a key departure and several promotions.
The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday it is forming what it called "an integrated global television distribution unit," following the decision by Laurie Younger, president of Disney-ABC Worldwide Television, to retire at the end of her contract in January.
Through that date, Younger will assist in transitioning to the new structure and will be available to provide counsel to the management team.
The new unit will combine several existing distribution-focused departments under the leadership of Ben Pyne, who has been named president of Global Distribution, Disney-ABC Worldwide Television & Disney Media Networks, reporting to Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks, and to Alan Bergman, president of the Walt Disney Studios.
For domestic responsibilities concerning ESPN, Pyne will continue reporting to Sean Bratches, exec VP, sales and marketing, ESPN and ABC Sports. He will also work closely with Andy Bird, president, Walt Disney Intl. The appointment is effective immediately.
The house-cleaning comes after a three-year juggernaut performance domestically by ABC and its global distribution arm, which parlayed "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" to record license fees abroad. It's unclear what further changes on the TV sales and marketing sides might be made under the new stewards of the Disney TV brand.
Given the generally stellar performance on the TV distribution side (other than domestic syndication, where firstrun has stalled), it is not thought that Younger was pushed out, though the more elaborate the press release, the more such speculation in Hollywood typically spreads.
Younger's two bosses, Sweeney and Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, jointly praised Younger in a statement that partly read: "For the past two decades, Laurie has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Walt Disney Co., and, while it pains us to see her go, we applaud her decision and wish her all the best going forward."
Younger added, "For 20-plus years, I have had the privilege of touching every aspect of the television business and now seems the appropriate time to start the next chapter and explore some new avenues."
Disney is well-known in the industry for its complicated management structure and multiple dotted reporting lines.
In his new role, Pyne, who formerly served as president, Disney & ESPN Networks affiliate sales and marketing, will assume chief responsibility for the international distribution and sales of the portfolio of entertainment and news content produced by the Mouse House. This includes all feature films, television series, kids shows, made-for-TV movies, miniseries, docs, TV animation and direct-to video content and their distribution to all platforms, including video-on-demand (VOD) and broadband markets. He will also oversee domestic distribution of the company's television content handled by Disney-ABC Domestic Television, and will assume responsibility for the ABC Television Network's Affiliate Relations department.
In commenting on his announcement, Sweeney stated, "I've had the pleasure of working alongside Ben for the past 10 years, and there is no one better suited or more deserving of this enormous responsibility. He is a consummate professional, fantastic dealmaker and a great manager."
"Laurie has built an amazingly rich division with incredibly talented people already in place and I look forward to working alongside each of them as we continue to build a world-class distribution and sales team," Pyne said.
As part of the new structure, David Preschlack has been promoted to exec VP, Disney & ESPN Networks affiliate sales and marketing, with oversight of Pyne's previous areas of responsibility, including direction of all affiliate distribution, affiliate relations, affiliate marketing and local ad sales for the U.S. cable and satellite networks of the company. In this position, Preschlack will continue to report to Pyne and will work closely with Bratches on all ESPN-related affiliate matters.
Pyne had served as president, Disney & ESPN Networks affiliate sales and marketing, a role he was promoted to in October 2005. In this capacity, he directed all affiliate distribution, affiliate relations, affiliate marketing and local ad sales for the U.S. cable and satellite networks of the Walt Disney Co.: ABC News Now, ABC Family, Disney Channel, SOAPnet, Toon Disney, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPN HD and ESPNU. He previously served as executive VP, Disney and ESPN affiliate sales and marketing, from June 2004 through September 2005 and worked closely with Sean Bratches on the successful integration of the ESPN and ABC Cable Networks group sales teams.Previous to the merging of the ESPN and Disney-ABC Cable Networks Groups affiliate sales and marketing teams, Pyne served from 2000-04 as senior vice president, affiliate sales and marketing for Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group.
Under his guidance, Disney Channel transitioned from a pay cable service to an expanded basic service growing from 6.5 million subscribers in 1992 when he joined the company to the more than 92 million today.