Anne Sweeney will leave Walt Disney Co. in January, the company said Tuesday, to pursue a new endeavor -- TV directing.
"The past 18 years at Disney have been the highlight of my executive career," Ms. Sweeney said in a statement. "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?'
ABC has been lagging its rivals in both total viewers and in the all-important 18-to-49 demo this season. The alphabet network has struggled to launch new shows, churning out a string of disappointments including "The Assets," "Killer Women," "Mind Games," "Lucky 7" and "Betrayal."
But its newest series, the heavily-promoted "Resurrection," got off to a strong start on Sunday, debuting to 13.3 million total viewers. And the network has bright spots, like "Scandal" and "Shark Tank," while aging reality series like "Dancing With the Stars" and "The Bachelor" continue to bring in viewers. Monday night's two-hour finale of "The Bachelor" averaged 9.6 million viewers. While that was down from its most recent spring finale, even the aftershow last night, "The Bachelor: After the Final Rose," brought in 11 million viewers, beating NBC's "The Voice," in the 18-to-49 demo.
The big question for the year ahead is now who Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger will tap to replace Ms. Sweeney. Mr. Iger told The Hollywood Reporter in an article where the company placed the news of her departure that he had only begun the search.
Ms. Sweeney was a relatively early advocate for streaming TV through the web and onto mobile devices during her tenure, seeing it as a necessity. Fear of piracy was forcing Disney's hand, she said in 2006. "We now understand that piracy is a business model," she said then. "It exists to serve a need in the market -- specifically consumers who want TV content on demand. And piracy competes for consumers the same way we do -- through quality, price and availability."