Anne Sweeney, cochair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, will leave the company to pursue a career in directing, the Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday. She will remain with Disney through January 2015.
Sweeney oversees Disney's entertainment and news television interests worldwide. She first joined the company in 1996, and is widely credited with helping to grow properties such as Disney Channel and ABC Family, and with successfully migrating broadcast network ABC's content onto the Internet in the middle of the last decade. She oversees Disney's equity interest in A+E Networks and Hulu
"The past 18 years at Disney have been the highlight of my 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," Sweeney said. "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?’"
Sweeney added that she is “excited to spend the remainder of this year positioning the TV Group for even greater success.”
Sweeney joined Disney in 1996 as president of Disney Channel and executive VP of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. She oversaw the launch of Toon Disney (now Disney XD) in 1998 and SOAPnet (now Disney Junior) in 2000.
From 2000 to 2004, she served as president of ABC Cable Networks Group and Disney Channels Worldwide.
Prior to joining Disney, Sweeney spent three years as chairman and CEO of FX Networks. Before joining FX, she spent 12 years in various executive positions at Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite.
“Since joining Disney, Anne has been a very successful executive in our senior ranks," said Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger. "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.”
He added that he looks forward “to having [Sweeney] direct one of our shows in the future.”
News of the departure was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Sweeney's success at Disney is rooted largely in the rise of Disney Channel, which has enjoyed enormous expansion under her watch and experienced a recent ratings boon.
According to Mark McCorkle, who with Bob Schooley cocreated one of Disney Channel's longest running original series, the animated show Kim Possible, Sweeney’s experience as an executive will aid her in her transition to directing.
"She has spent years collaborating with creative people and shepherding a wide variety of projects," he said. "That's a sure-fire way to develop skills that will help as storyteller."
McCorkle also credited Sweeney's sense of play. He recalled an ABC Cable Networks meeting years ago at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, when Sweeney showed up with a surprise for those assembled.
"There was no greater compliment than the day she dressed up as Kim Possible to kick off an all hands meeting," he said. "It was a great morale moment for us cartoon folks. When the top boss can show a sense of humor and can have some fun, it is a wonderful and rare thing."