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Disney's strategy chief given task of saving TV

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story starring Felicity Jones. The Star Wars series has dominated the box office in recent years.

Los Angeles

KEVIN MAYER, Walt Disney Co's longtime strategy chief, is moving from behind the scenes to a starring role.

The world's largest entertainment company created a new division on Wednesday, putting the 55-year-old executive in charge of businesses that may determine the future of one of America's best-known consumer brands. Mr Mayer, who previously weighed acquisitions for Disney, will be responsible for executing the company's shift from traditional TV to on-demand viewing.

"Wall Street likes Kevin," said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co. "He's proven himself to be a visionary, of not being afraid of taking risk. Giving him these assets is a worthy experiment."

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Chief executive officer Robert Iger handed Mr Mayer a portfolio that includes the company's investment in the Hulu streaming service, its international TV networks, as well as all programme and advertising sales for ABC, ESPN and other channels. He also expanded the role of parks chief Bob Chapek, giving the long-time executive added responsibility for the consumer products business. Both are now potentially in line to succeed Mr Iger in December 2021.

Like Mr Mayer, Mr Chapek's star is also on the rise, with theme parks reporting record profit last year and billions of dollars more in investments planned. Combining those businesses gives Mr Chapek, 58, a chance to reprise his role atop Disney's massive merchandising arm, which saw record earnings under his direction four years ago.

While Mr Chapek already held a high-profile position within the company, Mr Mayer's job has been much less visible. A mechanical engineer with a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard University, Mr Mayer joined Disney in the strategic planning department in 1993.

He supervised the company's online businesses including the troubled Go.com Internet portal in the late 1990s before jumping to lead the digital arm of Playboy Enterprises Inc in 2000 and later to Clear Channel Interactive.

Consulting work followed, until Mr Mayer came back to Disney's strategic planning unit in 2005.

It was critical year. Mr Iger took over, and Mr Mayer worked with the new CEO on one of his first big moves, the US$7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar. The deal for the Steve Jobs-controlled studio reinvigorated Disney's animation business, thanks to hits such as Cars and Finding Nemo. More importantly, the purchase helped Mr Iger and Mr Mayer craft a strategy of focusing the studio on film franchises - brands and characters with global appeal and merchandise potential.

Soon after, the Miramax art-house film division was sold and Disney acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm, gaining the superhero and Star Wars pictures that have dominated the box office in recent years.

In the past two years, and under Mr Mayer's direction, Disney spent US$2.6 billion to acquire the majority of BamTech, the streaming arm of Major League Baseball. It will now serve as the base from which the company introduces its new streaming services. BLOOMBERG