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ABC news chief Ben Sherwood replaces Sweeney as Disney TV chairman (Updated)

ABC News president Ben Sherwood (left), Univision Networks president Cesar Conde (center) and Univision News president Isaac Lee pose as they announced the joint venture between ABC News and Univision News last year.
ABC News president Ben Sherwood (left), Univision Networks president Cesar Conde (center) and Univision News president Isaac Lee pose as they announced the joint venture between ABC News and Univision News last year.

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Update 3:50 p.m.: Sherwood's challenge is to move beyond news

Ben Sherwood is credited with lifting ABC's Good Morning America out of the ratings cellar to beat NBC's Today Show for the first time in 16 years and for establishing strategic partnerships with Yahoo! and Univision.

In his new role he’ll be overseeing all of ABC as well as the Disney Channel and ABC Family.

“So the question will be can grow beyond his expertise in news in terms of media priorities,” said Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente, who adds that Sherwood was a good, if not particularly surprising choice.

DiClemente also points out that broadcast TV isn’t as lucrative as it once was, so Sherwood’s influence will be limited. He won’t be overseeing ESPN, which now brings in over half of Disney’s operating profits.

“A lot of the investor story around Disney surrounds the success of the theme parks, the success of ESPN, and the success of the studio,” said DiClemente.

Sherwood has drawn some unfavorable comparisons to former NBC Universal head Jeff Zucker. They both attended Harvard, and they both will have gone from the news division to running the whole network.

Zucker’s tenure at NBC was widely regarded as a disaster, and was he fired in 2010. (He has returned to news, where he now runs CNN)

Update 1:15 p.m.: Sherwood sets sights on digital adaptation

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ben Sherwood, who Monday was named head of Disney's Burbank-based TV division, said his promotion came together very quickly and was finalized while he was on vacation at Disney World with his family.

Sherwood said his goal the next five years will be to execute the mandate of outgoing Disney CEO Robert Iger, who believes that the "sky is rising" in media.

Sherwood explained:

"The key will be to adapt to the changing consumer behavior. The key will be to adapt to the disruption, and to do some of those things that we've done at ABC News over the last few years, adapting on the digital side in terms of a distribution process for Yahoo!, adapting in terms of the changing demographics of the country by launching a partnership with Univision to reach the fasting growing demographic in the country, Hispanic Millennials. I wrote a nonfiction book a few years ago where I went around the world and studied the world's greatest survivors. People who had been flattened out by life, and the project was to understand from people who face unbelievable adversity, who survives and who thrives and why."

Sherwood was also asked whether he would immediately be approving ABC pilots. His response:

"The thing that I'm going to be doing — the thing that any good journalist would do — is that I will be observing closely. I'll be asking a lot of questions. I'll be listening. I'll be learning and I will participate as appropriate. Obviously I'm coming from a different part of the company — from news — and so it would be presumptuous that I would be doing anything but observing, listening and learning and contributing where I can."

Update 1:20 p.m.: Sherwood replaces Sweeney as Disney TV chairman

The Walt Disney Co. announced Monday morning that ABC News President Ben Sherwood will take over as chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group next February.

Sherwood will succeed Anne Sweeney, who, in a move that left many people in Hollywood scratching their heads, said recently that she was stepping down to pursue a career in TV directing. Sweeney had not been known as a hands-on executive on the creative side.

RELATEDWomen in Hollywood: Understanding Anne Sweeney's decision to leave Disney

Sherman's appointment comes as less of a surprise. He is credited with leading ABC News' "Good Morning America" in its efforts to top NBC's "Today Show" in the lucrative network morning show wars. "Today" had been king for 16 years until "Good Morning America" beat it.

Also during Sherwood's tenure, ABC News launched a partnership with Yahoo! to create a news and information network online that now reaches nearly 100 million people. Last year, ABC News and Univision launched Fusion, a joint news and lifestyle network aimed at Hispanic viewers.

“Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen," Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO  Robert A. Iger said in a statement. (He's leaving Disney in 2016) "He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”

Disney said that Sherwood will begin the transition to co-president immediately, while continuing to oversee ABC News until a successor is named.

Sherwood started at ABC News in 1989 as an investigative associate producer. He's also the author of two best-selling novels: "The Man Who Ate the 747" and "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud."