Disney taps Yahoo exec to bolster Web efforts

Jimmy Pitaro, who is leaving his position running the powerful media properties at Yahoo, has taken a job as co-president of Disney Interactive Media Group, as Disney seeks to clarify its Web strategy.

Kara Swisher
5 min read

Jimmy Pitaro, who is leaving his job running the powerful media properties at Yahoo, has taken a job as co-president of Disney Interactive Media Group, with John Pleasants.

Pleasants was CEO of Playdom, the online game company that Disney acquired for $763 million in late July.

The appointment of the pair, both of whom will report to Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger, is a big move by the entertainment giant.

And it looks like another large-scale attempt to clarify and bolster its Web strategy, which has had a long and often rocky history and is the first major reset under Iger.

"I think we've built a framework of assets and now is the time to create a structure in a more focused way," said Iger in an interview this morning with BoomTown. "In splitting the divisions, we can focus more on them better and in a way they deserve."

He outlined the new setup, which will have Pleasants focus on the online gaming landscape and Pitaro on the Web and devices arenas. Iger said he felt Pleasants and Pitaro brought different backgrounds to the task, as well as longtime experiences.

Disney will need that going forward.

Under the previous regime of former CEO Michael Eisner, for example, Disney bought search engine Infoseek and tried to create a portal called Go.com. That failed, and was one of many efforts to define the online media company's Web strategy.

More recently in 2008, Disney gathered most of its Internet properties within DIMG, under Steve Wadsworth. He recently stepped down from his job.

Today, Disney owns a number of big Internet properties, including Disney.com, Family.com, and Club Penguin, although there does not seem to be a particularly cohesive strategy among them.

Of course, that's not surprise, given it is part of a multifaceted media company with a variety of businesses.

Due to its powerful content assets, in fact, it might be a perfect time for a more cogent plan. With the explosion of devices, such as the Apple iPad and others, the importance of cooperation between content and technology is more critical than ever.

News of the appointments of Pitaro and Pleasants had been rumored earlier this week by Silicon Alley Insider and the Hollywood Reporter.

As an interesting aside, Iger said that he was introduced to Pitaro via Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as her husband David Goldberg. Sandberg is now on the board of Disney, and Pitaro came to Yahoo via Launch Media, which was co-founded by Goldberg.

More to come, obviously, but here is the official press release from Disney:


BURBANK, Calif., October 3, 2010-John Pleasants and James Pitaro have been named Co-Presidents, Disney Interactive Media Group (DIMG), it was announced today by Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger.

John Pleasants, a well-respected new media executive whose career has included top jobs at digital commerce and game companies, will lead Disney's multi-faceted digital games businesses, including online, console, social and mobile. He will also continue to run Playdom, the fast-growing social games publishing company acquired by Disney earlier this year.

James Pitaro, an experienced Internet executive known for consistently delivering great branded web experiences to consumers, will oversee Disney Online, the home of Disney branded web and social media sites.

The new structure at DIMG is intended to enhance the strategic focus and responsiveness of the company's digital games and Disney Online businesses in a marketplace characterized by swiftly evolving consumer behavior and technologies. The structure is designed so that the two businesses can share consumer insights and technological resources and jointly take advantage of growth opportunities.

"Our rapidly growing Disney digital businesses will benefit greatly from the deep experience and distinct leadership skills shown by John and Jimmy," Iger said. "John has shown incredible agility and skill in helping companies achieve success in the ever-shifting digital games business, while Jimmy has vast knowledge of the online world and has been hugely successful at creating and building audiences around branded online content."

"Both have outstanding track records in anticipating trends and delivering to consumers creative, innovative and successful experiences and products," Iger added. "As Co-Presidents, I'm confident they will make Disney's digital content and businesses even more robust and successful."

Pleasants, who will be based in the Bay Area, will oversee Disney's overall games strategy and its global network of game development studios, including recently acquired mobile publisher Tapulous. The games group will include such popular online virtual worlds as Club Penguin and World of Cars as well as console and mobile titles.

Prior to joining Playdom as CEO in June 2009, he was President of Global Publishing and Chief Operating Officer of Electronic Arts Inc., where he led the company's online and mobile business units and its strategic expansion into online and social games. He previously served as President and CEO of Revolution Health and CEO of Ticketmaster, which included Match.com, CitySearch.com and Evite.com.

"I am extremely excited to be working with the DIMG team, and our colleagues across Disney, to advance the mission of enlivening people everywhere through the world's best interactive entertainment," Pleasants said. "Bob's vision and commitment to excellence in new media positions our organization to achieve great things."

In leading Disney Online, Pitaro will be responsible for enhancing the consumer experience on the company's numerous Disney-branded web and social media sites, including Disney.com, the number one global site for kids and families, and Family.com. Pitaro will also oversee Disney's social media marketing agency, DigiSynd.

Pitaro joins Disney from Yahoo! Inc. where he was Vice President and Head of Media. In that role, he significantly expanded Yahoo!'s original video, branded entertainment and editorial content and pioneered using data to enhance the consumer web experience. Pitaro led the successful expansion of Yahoo! Sports prior to being named to lead all of Yahoo!'s media properties, including its news, finance, entertainment and lifestyle sites. Previously, Pitaro ran Business Affairs for online music site Launch Media and practiced law at several New York firms.

"I'm honored to be joining the Disney family and energized to start working with the DIMG team. I've admired Disney for as long as I can remember and am looking forward to bringing my experience to the company and partnering with John to advance our online businesses," Pitaro said.

As Co-Presidents, they will be replacing former President Steve Wadsworth, who over many years established a firm foundation for DIMG's growth. Pleasants and Pitaro will report to Iger and will co-manage DIMG enterprise functions, including business affairs, finance and human resources. They will assume their new roles on October 18, 2010.