On a recent summer weekday, Tom Phillips was speaking from his old stomping grounds in Bellevue, Wash.
Phillips, 42, and president of ESPN Internet Ventures and ABC Sports Online, has a mature position in new media.
Before joining Bellevue, Wash.-based Starwave five years ago as vice president of sports, he spent six years in the magazine industry, co-founding Spy in the mid-’80s and starting a short-lived catalog company in 1991. “It was an insignificant interlude,” he says of the failed, year-long venture.
Phillips ultimately found a home in new media. At Starwave his role grew beyond overseeing sports and entertainment sites such as Mr. Showbiz and Wall of Sound, to being named senior vice president of products and services. “When I was here, I wandered around a lot,” Phillips reminisces. “It works. You find out what people are doing. You get input for setting policy. You solve problems and try to make your staff productive.”
When Disney took a controlling interest in Starwave in April 1997, Phillips moved back to New York to run the sports division, a joint venture between Disney and Starwave. He also launched ABCNews Internet Ventures in New York, where he was in charge of news and sports, before trading in the news division for ABC Sports Online. “It was a sanity move to give up news for sports,” Phillips explains. Rather than running two divisions, he could now focus on sports and a single direction for all of Disney’s sports properties online.
The Starwave- and Disney-operated ventures have become streamlined into the Buena Vista Internet Group. Then came Infoseek, in which Disney took a significant stake last June. “Now it’s back to being a little more complex, but full of a lot more opportunity, too,” Phillips says of the company.
Questions such as how to leverage Infoseek in the Buena Vista Internet Group consortium are the issues Phillips now contends with, just the sort of corporate project he and his colleagues once made fun of at Spy. “These decisions have strategic implications for Disney, ABC and ESPN in the future,” Phillips says. “This gets attention all the way up and down the chain at Disney. That overlay I didn’t have to deal with when I was at Spy.
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