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Disney's Digital Leader Departs

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The upheavals at the upper levels of Walt Disney Co. continued late Thursday with the resignation of Steve Wadsworth, the conglomerate's top executive for its digital unit.

Wadsworth sent an e-mail to his staff, according to The New York Times, in which he wrote: "I have been thinking about this for quite some time, and while it is difficult to leave a great company, an exciting business and a wonderful group of people, my desire and excitement to pursue other opportunities is too great to ignore."

Disney CEO Bob Iger issued a statement in which he expressed gratitude to Wadsworth. "I've been fortunate to work with Steve for many years and am thankful for his dedication and countless contributions to our company," he said.

Citing sources, The Times identified a likely successor: John Pleasants, CEO of Playdom, a casual gaming company Wadsworth was Instrumental in Disney acquiring in July.

Whether Wadsworth was pushed or left of his own volition will likely be debated in the coming days, but there's little question that Iger has not been shy about welcoming change atop the uppermost echelons of the company. The past 12 months have been marked by one stunning departure after another, including Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, and more recently ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson and ABC News president David Westin.

Iger may have very well telegraphed the move in his third-quarter earnings call, in which Wadsworth's unit, Disney Interactive Media Group, posted an operating loss of $65 million; it reported a slightly greater loss in 3Q '09 as well. But in his discussion of DIMG, Iger, who has always cast himself as a digitally savvy mogul, focused on the growth potential of Playdom, which was acquired for $563 million.

If anything marked Wadsworth's long ride atop Disney's digital operations -- he took the top job in 1999 and has been with the company since 1993 -- it was his ability to make pricey acquisitions including Playdom, and in 2007, he scooped up virtual world Club Penguin, for as much as $700 million.

Nevertheless, none of Wadsworth's purchases had a transformative effect on Disney. Nevertheless, he still managed to consolidate power in recent years, combining oversight of major Web properties like Disney.com with the company's gaming and mobile assets.

Though control of the Web operations for big Disney brands reverted back to those respective units earlier in his reign, he presided over a sprawling, complicated mix of investments from Canada to China. In recent years, he put a strategic emphasis on taking top Disney brands like "Fairies" and "Cars" and integrating their experiences across gaming consoles and wireless devices.

In 2008, The Hollywood Reporter named Wadsworth to the top of the list of its first annual Digital Power special issue; he remained on the list in 2010 as well.