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Disney Combining Network TV Operations Into One ABC Unit

July 09, 1999|SALLIE HOFMEISTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a cost-cutting move aimed at improving the stock price of the world's second-largest media company, Walt Disney Co. is restructuring its network television operations by combining them into a single unit at ABC.

Walt Disney Television Studio, including Buena Vista Television Productions, will be merged with ABC's prime-time division to form a new unit called ABC Entertainment Television Group.

Stuart Bloomberg, chairman of ABC Entertainment, and Lloyd Braun, chairman of Buena Vista Television, will be co-chairmen of the group, which will be overseen by Patricia Fili-Krushel, president of ABC Television Network, who is also in charge of other network programming and affiliate relations.

The move is part of Chief Executive Michael Eisner's efforts to cut costs at Disney, whose stock has fallen about 23% in the last year. The weakness is due in part to lower ratings and soaring program costs at ABC, which has been a high-profile sore spot for Disney.

"The aim is to streamline and to get more Disney-owned product on ABC's air," Fili-Krushel said. In an effort to contain costs, all of the networks are trying to own more programs on their air to prevent outside suppliers from holding them up for big money in renewal negotiations, as Warner Bros. did with NBC for "ER."

Disney has seven shows on ABC, compared with the nine that Fox, the other Hollywood studio that owns a major network, produces in-house.

The Disney structure is the most radical attempt yet to fulfill the promises of "vertical integration" by bringing production and distribution under the same roof. At Fox, prime-time scheduling and network production are handled by two autonomous divisions, although speculation continues that they will be brought under one banner.

At ABC, Braun said the two TV groups' duplicative operations in marketing, public relations, business affairs, promotion, research, casting and legal will be merged, while production and development of programs will be consolidated under Jamie Tarses, president of ABC Entertainment. "All the Chinese walls that have existed between the network and the studio have been eliminated," Braun said.

Braun acknowledged that Disney will probably reduce but not eliminate the supply of programming to other networks, although industry executives were dubious about how receptive rivals would be.

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.

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