Disney is said to consider news role for Sherwood after Fox deal

Ben Sherwood, Walt Disney Co.’s most senior television executive and former head of its news division. (Bloomberg pic)

LOS ANGELES: Walt Disney Co. has discussed reorganizing its news operations under the leadership of Ben Sherwood, its most senior television executive and the former head of its news division, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sherwood, who currently runs ABC, Freeform and Disney Channel, would become the head of worldwide news and nonfiction content at the company under one scenario that’s been discussed, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. Disney hasn’t made any decisions yet, and the outcome may depend on the success of its bid for UK broadcaster Sky Plc, which operates a large news division.

Disney is in the final stages of closing a US$71 billion deal with 21st Century Fox Inc., which will hand the company a broad swath of assets, including the Fox studio, a stake in the Hulu LLC streaming service, and cable channels such as FX. The company plans to overhaul the leadership of its TV division, placing Fox’s Peter Rice in charge and leaving Sherwood with an uncertain future.

Disney is still locked in a separate takeover battle with Comcast Corp. for control of satellite-TV provider Sky and its news subsidiary Sky News. Comcast currently has the higher bid, but a victory by Disney would bring the Burbank, California-based company a big news presence in Europe.

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Sherwood and Disney have held preliminary talks about a job overseeing news across North America, Europe and India, according to the people familiar with the discussions. The plan could fall through — and Sherwood may pursue roles outside of the company, one of the people said. His contract runs through mid-2021.

If Sherwood were to take over news, it would return him to the site of his greatest successes at Disney. The Los Angeles native ran ABC News when the network’s morning show, “Good Morning America,” eclipsed NBC’s “Today” in total viewers.

While that helped earned him a promotion to running a portfolio of TV networks, his success in news didn’t translate to other areas. The ABC network has been mired in third place and recently lost two of its biggest producers, Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris, to Netflix Inc. The Disney Channel and Freeform have both suffered declines in viewers.

As a result of the deal with Fox, top executives from that company, such as Rice and Dana Walden, are expected to join Disney. Rice is being considered to run all of Disney’s TV businesses, excluding ESPN, people familiar with the matter said month. Fox News, meanwhile, will be spun off into a new company controlled by Rupert Murdoch.