DISNEY TV SHIFTS LEADERS, PONDERS FUTURE DIRECTION

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LOS ANGELES-After losing its top TV executive, Walt Disney Co. now has to decide what value it places on program content vs. distribution.

Walt Disney Television & Telecommunications Chairman Rich Frank, who resigned March 10 after a week of speculation, wasn't willing to wait. And Disney Chairman-CEO Michael Eisner, who has been an advocate of product as the company's main motor, isn't one to be rushed.

Mr. Frank doesn't officially leave Disney until April 24; today, he's en route to New York for meetings with investment bankers and leading telecommunications companies. After that, it's on to Seattle for more meetings with top creators and suppliers of computer software that want to ensure their place at the multimedia trough.

"I have to start figuring out what's out there, and specifically, looking at other people's ideas that I've not thought about," he said.

Mr. Frank's departure is prompting Disney and telephone company partners Ameritech, Southwestern Bell and BellSouth Corp. to accelerate an executive search to head up their joint venture.

Disney also faces a void at the Disney Channel; John Cooke, who was president, was recently promoted to exec VP-corporate affairs for the parent.

Disney is among the companies in the hunt for CBS, but it's weighing any price demands against the potential of other distribution vehicles in which it already holds interests. While Disney's business is good and there's no immediate need to change fundamental operational philosophies, experts contend broadcasting's cyclical nature means Disney and others must protect long-range interests.

"There are always three ways to deal with this, which is to do nothing; go for the backward integration, which is the network scenario; or go into more of a forward integration, which is the telco scenario," said Dennis Hightower, Mr. Frank's successor. "Disney will continue to keep its options open as the convergence continues and it sees who winds up as the ultimate players," said Mr. Hightower, formerly president of Disney Consumer Products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.M

Mr. Tyrer is Los Angeles bureau chief for Electronic Media.

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