Pitaro, who has served as Chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media since 2016, will report directly to Robert A. Iger, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. His appointment is effective immediately. New leadership for Disney’s consumer products and interactive businesses will be named at a later date.
Pitaro replaces John Skipper who resigned as president of ESPN and co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks in December, citing his substance abuse problem.
“Jimmy is a talented and dedicated leader with the right strategic vision, relentless drive and passion for sports required to lead the stellar ESPN team at this incredibly dynamic time,” Iger said in making the announcement. “Jimmy forged his career at the intersection of technology, sports and media, and his vast experience and keen perspective will be invaluable in taking ESPN into the future. I also want to extend my utmost thanks to George Bodenheimer for serving as Acting Chair of ESPN these past few months; he is a true industry pioneer and helped make ESPN the undisputed leader in sports.”
Both internal and external candidates had been rumored to be candidates for the position, with Pitaro listed as one of the top choices from within the company, as Deadline reported earlier. He is well regarded internally and previously oversaw the development of Yahoo Sports. Other rumored possible candidates were CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, ESPN EVPs Connor Schell and Justin Connolly, and Turner Broadcasting president David Levy.
Pitaro will take the reins in what has been a turbulent period for the network.
A month after Skipper’s departure, Jemele Hill exited as co-anchor of the 6 PM hour of ESPN’s SportsCenter. She has remained with the Disney-owned network, moving to ESPN vertical The Undefeated as chief correspondent and senior columnist. In September, Hill became the target of a tweet from President Donald Trump in which he demanded ESPN “apologize for untruth” after Hill tweeted that Trump is a “white supremacist.”
The White House blasted her tweet as a “fireable offense.” ESPN released a statement saying Hill’s tweets do not represent the position of the network; she was suspended two weeks over the incident. Hill later acknowledged that “Twitter wasn’t the place to vent my frustrations.”
The company, whose subscriber losses have been dragging down Disney’s stock price, has been undergoing a restructuring and reallocation of resources to what it considers new growth areas such as ESPN+, the upcoming direct-to-consumer service which will be integrated into a reimagined ESPN App. The company says ESPN+ will serve as the all-in-one, personalized digital destination for ESPN, including scores, news, highlights and authenticated live streaming of ESPN’s eight U.S. networks.
In his previous role at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, Pitaro oversaw the world’s largest licensing business across toys, apparel and home goods; the world’s largest children’s publisher; the creation of branded digital and physical products, including a robust digital game slate; Disney store locations around the world; the recently launched shop Disney e-commerce platform; and the Disney Digital Network of social and digital channels that reach one of out of every three U.S. social media accounts.
Pitaro previously served as president, Disney Interactive. Prior to his roles at Disney, he served as vice president and head of Yahoo Media, where he set strategy and developed and executed growth-driving initiatives for Yahoo’s media properties, including Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Music. At Yahoo Sports, he developed and maintained strong relationships in the sports industry across the leagues and agencies. Earlier in his career, Pitaro was vice president of business affairs for Launch Media, Inc. and practiced law at several New York firms.
“As a passionate and lifelong sports fan, I am honored to be joining the ESPN team during such a pivotal time in its storied history,” Pitaro said. “The appetite for quality sports content across platforms has never been greater, and I am looking forward to working with the talented ESPN team as we continue to redefine the future fan experience.”