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Disney chooses Playdom chief, Yahoo veteran to lead interactive media unit

John Pleasants, head of Playdom, will run the games business. James Pitaro, who oversaw the Yahoo's entertainment and information assets, will take over Disney Online.

October 04, 2010|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times

Two years after Walt Disney Co. merged its video game and Internet units to better coordinate the operations, the entertainment company said Sunday that it would divide the responsibilities for its Interactive Media Group under two newly appointed co-presidents.

John Pleasants, a veteran new media executive who joined the company with Disney's acquisition this summer of Playdom, will oversee the games business, including online, console, social and mobile play. He will also continue to operate Playdom, the publisher of games for social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

James Pitaro, former vice president of media at Yahoo Inc. who oversaw the portal's entertainment and information assets, will take over Disney Online, a group that includes Disney-branded websites such as, as well as numerous Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other social media sites.

The joint heads of Disney Interactive Media Group succeed Steve Wadsworth, who last week announced his plans to leave after more than a decade as the company's top Internet executive. Pleasants and Pitaro assume their new roles Oct. 18.

Disney said the restructuring of Disney Interactive is designed to make its games and online businesses more responsive to swiftly changing technologies and consumer behaviors.

"Our rapidly growing Disney digital businesses will benefit greatly from the deep experience and distinct leadership skills shown by John and Jimmy," Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said in a statement.

The Interactive Media Group has been a financial drag on Disney and has struggled to achieve profitability despite major corporate investments. Major acquisitions in new-media have yet to translate to the bottom line, and Wall Street has grown impatient.

The company paid $350 million in 2007 to acquire Club Penguin, a children's virtual world, which Iger singled out during Disney's most recent earnings call for its growth domestically and internationally. But other virtual worlds built around other Disney franchises, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and Tinker Bell, have not been as successful. And Disney has yet to provide updated subscriber figures for Club Penguin — or for its recently launched World of Cars Online.

Pleasants, who will be based in the Bay Area, joined Playdom as chief executive in June 2009. He previously served as chief operating officer of Electronic Arts Inc., where he oversaw the company's online and mobile business units and its strategic expansion into online and social games.

Pitaro is credited with expanding Yahoo Sports prior to being named to lead all of Yahoo's media properties, including its news, finance, entertainment and lifestyle sites.

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