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Speculation starts on Anne Sweeney successor at Disney

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It's only been a few hours since Anne Sweeney announced her intentions to resign from her senior role at Walt Disney Co. next January, and speculation is already heating up about who will replace her.

Holding the titles of co-chair Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, Sweeney is responsible for the ABC broadcast network and its local television stations as well as Disney's cable networks, including the Disney Channel and ABC Family.

Sweeney has been with Disney almost 20 years and is its highest-ranking female executive. She also has oversight over ABC's stake in A&E Networks, the parent of cable channels A&E, History and Lifetime as well as Disney's interest in the online video site Hulu.

While ABC gets the most attention, it is the smallest part of Sweeney's portfolio. She spends much of her time focused on the cable networks, which provide the bulk of the revenue of the unit she heads.

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Although Sweeney isn't leaving for almost a year, Disney Chairman Bob Iger has indicated he'd like a successor in place this spring, which is when ABC will be figuring out its fall prime time schedule.

Among the names that surfaced as potential replacements were ABC News chief Ben Sherwood, who has close ties to Sweeney and is credited with turning around "Good Morning America." Another executive whose name is making the rounds is Nancy Dubuc, the chief executive of A&E Networks.

Other people outside the Disney/ABC empire who are seen as having the chops for Sweeney's role include Gail Berman, a former Fox and Paramount executive who recently left the production company Berman/Braun. Nancy Tellem, a former CBS executive who now heads Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios is also well-regarded, as is former Fox Networks chief Tony Vinciquerra.

Whether Sweeney's leaving will also mean a change in stature for the well-regarded ESPN chief John Skipper remains to be seen. Skipper and Sweeney shared the co-chair of Disney Media Networks title. Skipper is unlikely to add anymore to his already-full plate, but he could end up with sole ownership of that title.

ALSO:

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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