With James Pitaro as President of ESPN, Disney adds deep digital expertise to the human capital mix as it steers toward more digital offerings.
“I come from the digital world, and spent most of my career building and investing in new media products,” Pitaro said. An internal hire, he has been Chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media since 2016. “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,” said Disney Chairman and CEO Robert A. Iger, to whom Pitaro will report directly. Pitaro replaces John Skipper, who resigned in December after six years in the executive role. Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer has been serving as acting chairman in the interim.
Pitaro joined Disney in 2010 as Co-President of Disney Interactive, then a standalone unit comprised of gaming, Disney.com and other websites. Three years later, Co-President John Pleasants resigned, making Pitaro President. In 2015, when Disney’s interactive division merged with the much larger consumer products division, Pitaro was appointed Co-Chair, and later Chairman of Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Though a relatively small division within Disney, it is the world’s biggest licenser of consumer products. Pitaro’s career at Disney followed nine years at Yahoo, where he served as Vice President of Media and ran the sports division.
As President of ESPN, Pitaro will lead a much larger portion of the company. Disney’s media networks, of which ESPN is a core asset, brought in more than $23 billion of Disney’s $55 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ending September 30, according to the New York Times. Media networks contributed 34% of the company’s first-quarter operating income – more than any other segment.
Disney is tackling the challenges of the rapidly changing media industry by launching new solutions this year, including a direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service called ESPN+. The service is powered by BamTech, a technology subsidiary of Disney. With the service scheduled to launch this spring, Disney’s choice of Pitaro to head ESPN highlights its efforts to refocus the network. Pitaro is optimistic, saying, “The appetite for quality sports content across platforms has never been greater.” ESPN+ will launch alongside an entirely redesigned ESPN app. It will be Pitaro’s task to merge BamTech’s technology and employees into both ESPN and Disney.