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ESPN’s new boss is Jimmy Pitaro, a longtime Disney executive

He’s the man many people thought Bob Iger would pick to run the sports giant.

New ESPN CEO Jimmy Pitaro, left, with David Eun, now a Samsung executive, in 2010
New ESPN CEO Jimmy Pitaro, left, with David Eun, now a Samsung executive, in 2010
Jemal Countess / Getty
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Disney is poised to make an internal hire to run ESPN: Sources say Jimmy Pitaro, the company’s head of consumer products and interactive, is likely to run the giant and troubled sports network.

I’ve asked Disney and ESPN reps for comment. UPDATE: Disney has officially announced that Pitaro will be president of ESPN and co-chair of Disney Media Networks. From CEO Bob Iger: “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.”

Earlier today, journalist James Miller, who has covered ESPN extensively, reported that an ESPN leadership announcement would be coming “soon.”

Pitaro would fill the vacancy created in December when former ESPN CEO John Skipper surprised the media world by resigning, citing substance addiction.

Since then, Pitaro has been at the top of many lists as Skipper’s likely replacement: He’s a favorite of CEO Bob Iger and had previously been tapped as a likely successor to Skipper. At one point, Pitaro was supposed to move from the Los Angeles area to ESPN’s home base in Connecticut as Skipper’s No. 2.

Instead, Pitaro stayed on running Disney’s consumer and digital group, which generated $4.8 billion in 2017, a 13 percent decrease from 2016.

Now Pitaro is set to take an even bigger job, at a crucial time. He’ll be running what used to be Disney’s most important asset and is still one of the most powerful forces in TV. But ESPN’s subscriber base has been declining, as audiences cut the cord or don’t sign up for cable in the first place, and it is on the hook for costly sports programming deals that continue to ratchet up.

Both Skipper and Iger have insisted that ESPN is in fine shape, because those sports deals let it command subscriber rates and audiences that other TV networks can’t get.

But the network has gone through a series of layoffs to help its sagging margins. And the planned launch of ESPN Plus, a direct-to-consumer subscription service featuring niche sports, is an incremental step, not a full-scale solution to ESPN’s woes.

Pitaro has been at Disney since 2010, when he came aboard as co-head of its interactive group. He outlasted his co-president John Pleasants, and eventually added the company’s consumer products and licensing business to his portfolio.

Pitaro hasn’t touched the sports business for years. Prior to Disney, he ran Yahoo’s media business, back when the company was still trying to decide whether it was a media company or a technology company (it never decided). And before that, he ran Yahoo’s once-powerful sports vertical from 2006 until 2009.

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