Sweeney Is Family's New Parent Figure


Yet again, Disney is trying to work some new magic on ABC Family. The company said last week that ABC Cable Networks Group chief Anne Sweeney is adding all functions of the cable channel to her purview.

ABC Family President Angela Shapiro, who had answered to Walt Disney President and COO Robert Iger, now reports to Sweeney.

It is unclear whether Shapiro, who joined Family in April 2002, will stay on. But a spokesperson said Shapiro "continues as the president of ABC Family with the complete support of the company." She is said to have a long-term contract.

Under the previous arrangement, Shapiro headed most departments, including programming, marketing and ad sales. At first, she reported to then ABC Television Group President Steven Bornstein, but, after he left, she reported straight to Iger. The channel's affiliate sales and marketing and the kids block, however, fell to Sweeney's cable group.

That organization struck some industry execs as odd. But the cable business was new frontier for Shapiro, who had previously headed ABC's daytime. After arriving, she replaced nearly every department head.

The timing of Sweeney's elevation is unclear, but the implications aren't: Disney is under intense pressure to justify its two-year-old investment's $5.2 billion price tag.

Since being acquired from Fox and Haim Saban in October 2001, Family has faltered. Repurposing ABC shows largely flopped. And attempts at original programming haven't popped.

Ratings have been lackluster, too. Prime time marks were off 12% in third quarter 2003 to a 0.7, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Shapiro has focused on attracting younger viewers with lighthearted fare. Media buyer Kris Magel, manager of national broadcast for Optimedia International, says a niche is slowly emerging, although the net still needs a lot work. "I would like to see them emerge with one or two solid consistent hits that are identifiable."

Operationally, the changes for Family make sense, says media analyst David Joyce, of Guzman & Co. "Sweeney is proving she has what it takes to help drive some incremental interest to Disney's cable properties."