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How Disney is building the business with innovation

 How Disney is building the business with innovation

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

Just how do you keep a major corporate fresh and innovative? How can you stop a business getting bogged down in corporate culture? One woman claims to have the answer.

For co-chair of Disney Media Networks, and president of the  Disney/ABC Television Group, Anne Sweeney, innovation and innovators within a company are key in keeping the business one step ahead of the competition.

The Walt Disney Company itself is a global giant and Sweeney has been called the most powerful woman in television.

Together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, the company is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise with five business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media.

Disney is a Dow 30 company and had annual revenues of about $36 billion in its most recent fiscal year.

“I had the greatest business challenge when I came to Disney.  My predecessor had started to convert Disney channel from a pay service to a basic service.  And this change was in its infancy,” she said.

“I felt that my job was both to accelerate that change because a broad-based Disney channel would be a good thing for the Walt Disney Company. The other thing I did was to make sure that once we were a broad-based service we were responsive to people, to kids and families, who were watching us morning, noon and night. So redoing the Disney Channel.”

That’s the bigger strategic picture but on a day-to-day basis Sweeney firmly believes that innovation is key to building the business.

“I think you pay attention to the innovators - the people that have the next great idea. I think that you talk to your team and encourage innovation at every single level,” she explained.

“My management style is to hire the smartest people I can find and then let them do their jobs.  But that comes with understanding very clearly what our goals are in the biggest possible sense and on an annual basis.”

She added, “Realising as a manager that I don't do everything well, I need really smart people around me who are experts in their fields.  And I believe that I have that team.  I have a very motivated team of people.”

These are challenging times for Disney and the entertainment industry in general. Technological  developments are revolutionising how, where and when people watch TV. No longer do viewers have to sit in front of the box with the advance of online video.

“Probably the most important thing is making sure that we stay current with what our viewers are doing.  And it's not just what technologies are they using or, you know, what shows are they watching – but how are they living their lives?  How are they incorporating technology?  How are they using our shows?  How do they talk about our shows? Staying connected to our consumers, I think, is paramount.”

ABC Family has demonstrated this clearly. The numbers showed the brand “wasn’t working” prompting a complete investigation into the channel and viewers with a series of focus groups. The results identified a new target group of consumers called ‘millennials’. Who?

“They are the kids who grew up using multiple technologies.  I wasn't one of those kids.  But we started talking to them about how do you get your content and we realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to connect with this group through good storytelling,” the Disney boss said.

“Then it was a matter of putting together a great team. And I think it really is that focus and that attention to detail in the storytelling, in all of the technologies that they've use, in all of their online work, that's made it the success it is today.”

Most recently, the launch of the iPad has presented a new challenge to broadcasters. But for Sweeney a challenge is simply an opportunity and has resulted in the app.

“It is a beautiful delivery system for our ABC shows.  Very intuitive, very connected to what people want and need when they watch our shows on this device,” she explained.

This has now been followed by the ABC News app - a spinning globe which allows users to dive into stories and the ABC News archive.

The recession has also proved a challenge to the media industry as a whole but what has been Sweeney’s approach in dealing with the situation?

“Leadership challenges range from keeping people engaged or enthused or motivated in tough times,” she revealed.

“We focused on the work.  We kept people very focused.  We talked about the realities but we didn't let the realities become the excuse for not getting the work done, for not succeeding.”

Sweeney continued, “We knew we still had to make strong, brilliant television shows.  We knew we had strong brands that people had great feelings about and we needed to keep those relationships with our viewers strong.  So it was really about bringing everyone back to center, back to center and to their credit, no one strayed, the work progressed, the shows were launched.

“Leadership is all about continuing to learn.  You don't get to a point in a job or a company where you know it all.  If you're a good leader, you're continuing to learn, you're continuing to encourage your team to learn and you're passing it on.  That's how companies move forward.”

To see this interview in full on click here.

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