March 5, 2018 / 7:24 PM / 2 years ago

Disney taps Pitaro to lead ESPN through digital transition

(Reuters) - Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) on Monday named longtime executive James Pitaro the new president of its ESPN sports network, tapping him to navigate a rapid consumer shift from traditional television to online viewing.

FILE PHOTO: The ESPN logo is seen on an electronic display in Times Square in New York City, U.S., August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Pitaro, 48, joined Disney in 2010 and has run the consumer products and interactive group for the past two years. He replaces John Skipper, who resigned in December, citing substance addiction.

ESPN, Disney’s most important cable network, remains a major profit source for the media giant but has been losing pay TV subscribers to cord cutting. Disney is trying to capture digital viewers with an upcoming streaming service called ESPN+, a $5-a-month subscription that will offer sports programing that is not shown on ESPN’s TV channels.

“Jimmy forged his career at the intersection of technology, sports and media, and his vast experience and keen perspective will be invaluable in taking ESPN into the future,” Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said in a statement.

He added that Pitaro’s appointment “comes at a time for great opportunity for ESPN.”

Pitaro also will serve as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and will report directly to Iger.

“The appetite for quality sports content across platforms has never been greater, and I am looking forward to working with the talented ESPN team as we continue to redefine the future fan experience,” Pitaro said.

As head of consumer products, Pitaro ran the licensing of Disney-owned characters such as Mickey Mouse for toys, apparel and other merchandise. The consumer products business merged in 2015 with the interactive unit, which handles licensing for video games and oversees Disney websites.

Pitaro joined Disney from Yahoo, where he served as head of media, including the company’s sports media properties.

A new leader for the consumer products unit will be named later, Disney said.

Disney shares rose 0.4 percent to close at $103.41 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish

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