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By Published on .

Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite President Geraldine Laybourne Friday was named president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, paving the way for an intense battle in kids programming once the Walt Disney Co.-Capital Cities/ABC merger is final.

Her new portfolio, though, does not include sports powerhouse ESPN, which Cap Cities is expected to spin off into a free-standing division reporting to Bob Iger, Cap Cities president-chief operating officer.

The recruitment of Ms. Laybourne, a Viacom star and MTV Networks vice chairman who propelled Nickelodeon to become a serious rival to Disney as the preferred children's programming brand, signals a war on the kiddy turf that has only just begun.

Insiders expect Disney to relaunch the Disney Channel or spin off a second channel as a basic cable network that would compete with Nickelodeon and Turner Broadcasting System's emerging Cartoon Network. The latter will soon be bolstered by Time Warner's Warner Bros. animation library.

Disney/ABC Cable, reporting to Mr. Iger, will oversee the Disney Channel and ABC's planned all-news channel, as well as its interests in A&E, Lifetime and the History Channel.

MTV Networks Chairman-CEO Tom Freston assumes the additional role of president of Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite; he said day-to-day operations will be managed by other senior Nickelodeon executives for the time being.

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