Anne Sweeney Is Leaving Disney

18-year vet says she wants to direct

The Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday announced that Anne Sweeney is leaving the company, effective January 2015, so that she may pursue her dream of directing television.

An 18-year Disney veteran, Sweeney currently serves as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group. John Skipper is the Mouse House’s other co-chair, and he also is president of ESPN.

Sweeney joined Disney in 1996, signing on as president of Disney Channel and evp of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. Before that, she was president and CEO of FX Networks.

Sweeney broke the news to The Hollywood Reporter. Shortly after that story went live, Disney issued an official press release. “I’ve been a part of an amazing evolution in our business and our industry, and have achieved far more than I ever thought possible,” Sweeney said, by way of announcing her decision to move on. “But as wonderful as the experience has been, there has always been a nagging voice in the back of my head pushing me to step out of the comfort zone of the executive ranks and more directly into the creative arena that enticed me to TV in the first place.”

Sweeney went on to add that while her plan to walk away from corporate life to pursue a discipline in which she is untutored may seem a bit peculiar, directing a TV series would prove to be the culmination of “a long realized dream.” She then thanked Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger for his “leadership, guidance and his friendship over the years,” before saying that Iger had offered her an extension on her contract.

Sweeney will remain in place through the end of the year where she looks to “position the TV Group for even greater success.”

For his part, Iger credited Sweeney with growing Disney Channel into a global powerhouse while making ABC “a strong, successful content creation engine.” He went on to “applaud Anne for knowing what she wants out of life and for having the courage to follow her dream.”

While the short list of executives rumored to be in line to succeed Iger when he steps down in June 2016 is forever in flux, Sweeney’s name was rarely listed among them. Insiders say the frontrunners for the top job are theme park and resorts chairman Tom Staggs and LucasFilms’ Kathleen Kennedy.

Sweeney announced her plans to leave the media conglomerate just two months before ABC will hold its 2014-15 upfront presentation in New York. On pace to finish last among the Big Four in the all-important 18-49 demo for the third year running, the network continues to struggle under entertainment president Paul Lee.

Iger told THR that Lee has his “full support.” That said, neither Sweeney nor Iger would address whether Lee’s contract would be renewed before it expires in July.