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Ben Sherwood named as Disney's top TV executive

Walt Disney (DIS) today named Ben Sherwood as the head of the ABC Television Group, replacing Anne Sweeney, who's leaving the position to become a TV director. Sherwood was instrumental in dethroning NBC's "Today" show as the ratings leader among broadcast networks in the morning after 16 years.

He's currently the head of ABC News, a job he'll hold until a successor is named. The effective date of his new position is February 15, 2015. Sweeney, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, will leave her job in January. Sherwood will take part in key decisions while he transitions to his new position.

As The New York Times noted, Sherwood's promotion isn' a surprise. For one thing, ABC's "Good Morning America" continues to top the ratings in morning TV, the most lucrative time slot for the TV news business. Under Sherwood's leadership, ABC also forged an alliance with Yahoo (YHOO) to create an online network that has had the most traffic for the past 25 months.

Sherwood joined ABC News in 1989, serving as investigative associate producer and producer for ABC News' "PrimeTime Live." He joined NBC News in 1997 as a producer for NBC's "Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" and rejoined ABC in 2004.

ABC has been making waves. In the week ended March 18, it topped the ratings among 18- to 49-year-old viewers, the demographic most coveted by advertisers. ABC rode the success of the supernatural thriller "Resurrection" and other hits such as "Scandal" and "Grey's Anatomy." The Disney Channel finished 2013 as the most popular children's cable network for the second year in a row, according to the New York Post.

One weak spot has been in late night, where NBC has enjoyed ratings success since Jimmy Fallon took over the "Tonight Show" from Jay Leno earlier this year.

Shares of Disney, also the parent of ESPN and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, were little changed on the news, but they've surged more than 40 percent over the past year.

Investors will now focus on the question of who will replace Chief Executive Bob Iger. Last year, the Burbank, Calif. -based media and entertainment giant extended Iger's contract to 2016.

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