Disney chief Michael Eisner's decision three years ago to move ABC west to Burbank, Calif., is still roiling the network's top management ranks. The latest victim: Robert Callahan, who just under a year ago was named president of the ABC Broadcast Group.
Last week, Callahan opted to exit ABC (effective later this year) after it became clear to him that the Southern California area wasn't a suitable fit for all of his family's needs.
Last year, ABC lost Pat Fili-Krushel, then president of ABC-TV, to the Internet world for similar reasons. After deliberating for months, she opted not to move her family to the West Coast and instead signed on with Healtheon/WebMD.
Callahan will be succeeded by his predecessor in the job, Steven Bornstein, who, company sources say, was underutilized as the head of Disney's Internet Group, given that many of the group's plans, including the now-shuttered Go portal, have been scrapped. (Indeed, the Internet sector saw more fallout last week with NBC's decision to buy and dismantle most of what remains of NBCi. See page 64.)
Sources confirm that Bornstein was mulling offers from the outside and was prepared to leave if not offered a high-level post on the broadcast side of the business.
Bornstein's new broadcast job as president of ABC Television is somewhat smaller in scope than his previous ABC post, which was president of ABC Inc. Then, he oversaw cable and radio, which now will report in separately to Disney President Robert Iger. Steve Wadsworth replaces Bornstein as head of the Internet Group, which will also report directly to Iger.
As president of ABC Television, Bornstein will oversee the ABC Television Network, the network's 10 owned-and-operated TV stations, and Buena Vista Television, the company's syndicated programming arm.
Callahan, who has run the ABC Broadcast Group since last April, never fully made the transition to the West Coast—he was renting a house in Burbank—and ultimately decided he couldn't do it for personal reasons. Sources say one of his daughters, who has multiple disabilities, attends a special school in New York. After looking at possible replacement schools on the West Coast, Callahan concluded it was in his daughter's best interests to remain at the school she attends, and, thus, it would be impossible for his family to relocate.
Callahan and Disney President Robert Iger had talked about opportunities for him on the East Coast for several months, sources say, but nothing panned out. So Callahan decided to move on after a transitional period.
Bornstein had been running Disney's Internet assets since late 1999 but before that had the top job at ABC—his reward for turning ESPN into a cash cow. But he was only in that job about six months before Disney chief Eisner asked him to take the helm at the company's Internet Group, which even then was struggling to achieve its objectives.
Like the other major traditional-media companies, Disney hoped to create a popular general-interest Web portal to rival the likes of Yahoo and AOL. And, as with other traditional-media companies, those plans proved difficult to implement and then collapsed after the Internet economy turned sour last year.