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Anne Sweeney

Anne Sweeney
President of Disney/ABC Cable Networks

Disney Channel's Anne Sweeney: From Page To President

By Torri McEntire, Writer

She started out as a 19-year-old page at ABC in New York. Today, 39-year-old Anne Sweeney is President of the Disney Channel and Executive Vice President of Disney/ABC Cable Networks.

How does someone rise from the ranks of television hopefuls to head one of the fastest growing networks in cable (reaching 27 million subscribers with its programming)?

"My advice is to find out what it is you are passionate about," Sweeney tells "Ask lots of questions and do lots of listening along the way."

Sweeney grew up in the Hudson Valley in a town called Kingston. As a student at College of New Rochelle, an all-women school, she was involved in a number of theater productions. The school had to recruit men to play the male roles, and one recruit worked for ABC.

"That is how I first heard about the page program, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work across the division. I was absolutely hooked," she says. "We were uniformed gophers, and it was cool."

Sweeney had always been drawn to two things: teaching children and the high-energy world of the television industry. After she finished her B.A. at the College of New Rochelle, she studied education at Harvard (where she also met her husband, Phil Miller).

"It seemed like a logical career path, when I look back, to find myself involved in children's television," she says.

Sweeney was named to her current position in 1996 and is also involved in building strategies for other Disney/ABC cable networks, including A&E Network, The History Channel and Lifetime Television.

Prior to that, she was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fx Networks, Inc. During her tenure at Fx, she presided over the launch of two basic cable networks: Fx, an entertainment network representing the most successful basic cable launch in history, and FxM: Movies from Fox, Hollywood's first studio-based movie network. Sweeney built Fx from the ground up, taking it from an idea to an organization of 400 employees with a studio in New York and a subscriber base that today exceeds 31 million homes.

At Fx Networks, she oversaw the acquisition of cable rights for such hotly sought after network properties as "NYPD Blue," "Picket Fences," and "X-Files," the launch of FX and FXM in Australia on FOXTEL, and the shift of FX's signature "Breakfast Time" series to the broadcast network.

Before joining Fox in 1993, she spent 12 years at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. There she handled programming agreements, international program acquisitions and sales, and co-production and syndication of Nickelodeon programming.

"While I was there, I was given the responsibility to expand Nickelodeon internationally, and I would consider that my big break," Sweeney says.

The expansion meant establishing Nickelodeon in the United Kingdom through a joint venture with British Sky Broadcasting. She also held several other positions during her time at the company, including Vice President of Acquisitions for MTV Networks.

Sweeney credits the support of her family (she and Miller, an attorney, have two children: Christopher, 11 and Rosemary, 6) and two mentors (she credits Geraldine Laybourne, now Disney/ABC Cable Networks President, and Fox's Rupert Murdoch, with helping her career.

She recalls, "The night my husband graduated from law school, I received a call from Rupert Murdoch asking me to join Fox (cable). It was a thrilling night."

"When we moved from the east coast to California and uprooted our little family, my husband told me that life is an adventure. 'If this is the next great adventure for us, let's do it,' he said. I felt so free after that, to say 'yes' to an exciting opportunity."

Sweeney's advice to those who want to be a success in the television industry is to ask questions and more questions.

"Too many people fail because they think they have to look like they already know it all," she said. "I don't believe you can truly do your job well unless you are continually finding out about it."

Taking an active role in cable industry affairs, Sweeney is a board member of the National Academy of Cable Programming and of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which supports minorities in cable television. A founding member of Women in Cable, she was named New York Women in Cable's Executive of the Year in 1994. In 1995, she received the STAR Award from American Women in Radio and Television. She was inducted into the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Achievement in 1996. She is an Honorary Chair of Cable Position. Women in Cable and Telecommunications recently named her Woman of the Year.

Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Rochelle and a member of the Harvard University Partners Council.

"Decide what it is you are passionate about." -Anne Sweeney

Printed by permission from

Thanks to George Beckett.

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