In a surprise announcement, Anne Sweeney, widely regarded as one of the most influential executives in the broadcasting industry, and responsible for 18 years of growth and success of Disney’s global entertainment and news properties, has revealed that she is quitting The Walt Disney Company in January of 2015 to pursue a career in Television Directing. Sweeney, who joined the company in 1996, is currently co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group.
Sweeney said the past 18 years at Disney had been the highlight of her executive career. “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. 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 realised 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. I’m excited to spend the remainder of this year positioning the TV Group for even greater success.”
Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, said that since joining Disney, Sweeney had been a very successful executive in its senior ranks. “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 US; 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. 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.”
As co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, Sweeney oversees The Walt Disney Company’s global entertainment and news television properties. This includes ABC Studios; the ABC Owned Television Stations Group; the ABC Television Network, which provides entertainment, news and kids programming to tens-of-millions of viewers via more than 200 affiliated stations across the US; successful millennial-focused cable channel ABC Family, which, under Sweeney’s supervision, has become a top cable destination for Females 12-34 and Women 18-34; and Disney Channels Worldwide, a portfolio of 107 kid-driven, family-inclusive entertainment channels, including Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Disney Cinemagic, Hungama, and Radio Disney brands.
Since taking oversight of Disney Channels Worldwide, Disney Channel has enjoyed explosive growth and ratings success, currently celebrating 142 straight weeks as the #1 TV Network with Kids 6-11 and Tweens 9-14. And Disney Junior, the portfolio’s most recent addition, has quickly become the #1 preschool channel on television.
Additionally, Ms. Sweeney’s responsibilities include the company’s successful equity interest in A+E Networks, Fusion, and Hulu.
In 2005, Sweeney helped lead the industry into the digital era when the Disney/ABC Television Group became the first media company to put television content on new platforms. The group was the first to leverage iTunes, the first to introduce an ad-supported full episode player online, and the first to deliver an application for the revolutionary iPad.
Under Sweeney’s leadership, the Group continues to combine high-quality content with strategic use of traditional and emerging distribution platforms to deliver compelling news and entertainment viewing experiences to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Most recently, through its WATCH ABC service, ABC became the first linear broadcast network to provide authenticated viewers with live access to their favourite ABC shows and local market programming, as well as a variety of on-demand content, in more ways than ever before, at home and on the go.
Since launch, the WATCH suite of authenticated products have become the industry standard. WATCH Disney apps have been downloaded more than 20 million times with 1.6 billion episode starts since their launch in June 2012. WATCH ABC has been downloaded over 16 million times with 1.5 billion episode starts since May 2013. And WATCH ABC Family, which launched January 2014, has already been downloaded more than 6.3 million times with over 300 million episode starts.
From October 2000 to April 2004, Sweeney served as president of ABC Cable Networks Group and Disney Channels Worldwide, where under her leadership Disney Channel more than quintupled its subscriber base. In April 1998, she also oversaw the successful launch of the 24-hour channel Toon Disney (now known as Disney XD), and later the launch of SOAPnet in January 2000 (which has since become Disney Junior).
Sweeney joined The Walt Disney Company in February 1996 as president of Disney Channel and executive vice president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks.
Previously, she was chairman and CEO of FX Networks, Inc., since 1993. During her tenure there, she presided over the launch of two basic cable networks, entertainment-focused FX and FXM: Movies from Fox, Hollywood’s first studio-based movie network.
Before joining Fox, Ms. 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.
Active in organisations both within and outside the television industry, 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.
Since assuming her current role as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, Ms. Sweeney has repeatedly been named the ‘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.
In the past year, Sweeney was honoured by HRC with its Corporate Equality Award and by the Library of American Broadcasting with its Giants of Broadcasting honour. In 2008, she was honoured with the Broadcasters Foundation of America’s Golden Mike Award for Outstanding Contributions to Broadcasting, the Matrix Award for television from New York Women in Communications, Inc., as well as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership.
Ms. Sweeney was inducted into the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame in October 2007 and recognised by the Producers Guild of America in 2006 with the President’s Citation for her efforts on behalf of diversity across the Disney/ABC Television Group. In 2005, she was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable ‘Hall of Fame’, and in 2004 received the Muse Award from New York Women in Film & Television.
She has been honoured repeatedly by Women in Cable & Telecommunications – as Executive of the Year in 1994, Woman of the Year in 1997 and as the recipient of the Advocate Leader Award from WICT’s Southern California chapter in 1998. In 1995 she received the prestigious STAR Award from American Women in Radio and Television. She was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement in 1996. In 2002, she received Women in Film’s esteemed Lucy Award and has been awarded the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s President’s Award.
Sweeney earned a BA degree from The College of New Rochelle and an Ed. M. degree from Harvard University.