UPDATE: Disney CEO Bob Iger’s strategy thus far has been to promote from within. But he went outside for executives to run Disney’s interactive gaming, social networking, online content, and web and mobile group which he has been expanding recently with $1 billion in acquisitions to position the company on those platforms. Iger decided to split the top job of president: he announced today that Yahoo VP of Media Jimmy Pitaro will Co-President the Disney Interactive Media Group with John Pleasants who also continues as CEO of Playdom, the fast-growing social games publishing company recently acquired by Disney earlier this year for up to $763 million. Pleasants, who won’t be headquartered in Burbank, also will get involved with another recent Disney acquisition, the mobile publisher Tapulous. The moves come simultaneously with Steve Wadsworth exiting Disney Interactive last week. Pitaro was the boss behind three heavily trafficked parts of Yahoo: news, sports and finance and will continue overseeing content at Disney including Disney.com marketing, DigiSynd, advertising, and non-gaming mobile content. Pleasants will head gaming including mobile gaming. Among the name assets Pitaro and Pleasants will be guiding are the popular virtual world Club Penguin site (acquired before Disney interactive and gaming divisions were combined) and interactive Disney-branded sites like Fairies, Pirates of the Carribean, Toontown Online and The World of Cars Online. (See Disney announcement below.)
Yahoo’s controversial and annoying CEO Carol Bartz has talked about stability and marketshare and branding ever since she joined the portal giant back in January 2009. She may want to focus on staff retention instead. Three of the company’s top executives have bolted: besides the well-liked Pitaro, the other two Yahoo escapees are EVP of sales Hilary Schneider and North American mobile ops head David Ko. The fleeing couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Yahoo which is already in the middle of a major culture shift as it transfers all of its search capabilities to Microsoft’s Bing, which in turn is having a tough time vs. Google. Though this executive defection occurred on Bartz’s watch, the problems at Yahoo began with Terry Semel and kept going though Jerry Yang (who co-founded the company and took back control for awhile.) What’s worse, Yahoo’s stock has dropped about $15 this year. So for all the cost-cutting and bravado Bartz has introduced to the company, it doesn’t look like any of it is paying off. Then again, she only has 18 months left on her contract right now.
BURBANK, Calif., October 3, 2010 — John Pleasants and James Pitaro have been named Co-Presidents, Disney Interactive Media Group (DIMG), it was announced today by Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger.
John Pleasants, a well-respected new media executive whose career has included top jobs at digital commerce and game companies, will lead Disney’s multi-faceted digital games businesses, including online, console, social and mobile. He will also continue to run Playdom, the fast-growing social games publishing company acquired by Disney earlier this year.
James Pitaro, an experienced Internet executive known for consistently delivering great branded web experiences to consumers, will oversee Disney Online, the home of Disney branded web and social media sites.
The new structure at DIMG is intended to enhance the strategic focus and responsiveness of the company’s digital games and Disney Online businesses in a marketplace characterized by swiftly evolving consumer behavior and technologies. The structure is designed so that the two businesses can share consumer insights and technological resources and jointly take advantage of growth opportunities.
“Our rapidly growing Disney digital businesses will benefit greatly from the deep experience and distinct leadership skills shown by John and Jimmy,” Iger said. “John has shown incredible agility and skill in helping companies achieve success in the ever-shifting digital games business, while Jimmy has vast knowledge of the online world and has been hugely successful at creating and building audiences around branded online content.”
“Both have outstanding track records in anticipating trends and delivering to consumers creative, innovative and successful experiences and products,” Iger added. “As Co-Presidents, I’m confident they will make Disney’s digital content and businesses even more robust and successful.”
Pleasants, who will be based in the Bay Area, will oversee Disney’s overall games strategy and its global network of game development studios, including recently acquired mobile publisher Tapulous. The games group will include such popular online virtual worlds as Club Penguin and World of Cars as well as console and mobile titles.
Prior to joining Playdom as CEO in June 2009, he was President of Global Publishing and Chief Operating Officer of Electronic Arts Inc., where he led the company’s online and mobile business units and its strategic expansion into online and social games. He previously served as President and CEO of Revolution Health and CEO of Ticketmaster, which included Match.com, CitySearch.com and Evite.com.
“I am extremely excited to be working with the DIMG team, and our colleagues across Disney, to advance the mission of enlivening people everywhere through the world’s best interactive entertainment,” Pleasants said. “Bob’s vision and commitment to excellence in new media positions our organization to achieve great things.”
In leading Disney Online, Pitaro will be responsible for enhancing the consumer experience on the company’s numerous Disney- branded web and social media sites, including Disney.com, the number one global site for kids and families, and Family.com. Pitaro will also oversee Disney’s social media marketing agency, DigiSynd.
Pitaro joins Disney from Yahoo! Inc. where he was Vice President and Head of Media. In that role, he significantly expanded Yahoo!’s original video, branded entertainment and editorial content and pioneered using data to enhance the consumer web experience. Pitaro led the successful expansion of Yahoo! Sports prior to being named to lead all of Yahoo!’s media properties, including its news, finance, entertainment and lifestyle sites. Previously, Pitaro ran Business Affairs for online music site Launch Media and practiced law at several New York firms.
“I’m honored to be joining the Disney family and energized to start working with the DIMG team. I’ve admired Disney for as long as I can remember and am looking forward to bringing my experience to the company and partnering with John to advance our online businesses,” Pitaro said.
As Co-Presidents, they will be replacing former President Steve Wadsworth, who over many years established a firm foundation for DIMG’s growth. Pleasants and Pitaro will report to Iger and will co-manage DIMG enterprise functions, including business affairs, finance and human resources. They will assume their new roles on October 18, 2010.