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It’s over for Paul Yanover at Disney (NYSE: DIS) Online. The chief architect behind the rebuilding of Disney.com is leaving to “pursue new opportunities outside the company,” as he told staffers Friday morning in an internal e-mail (full memo below).
The departure was not entirely unexpected as Disney Interactive Media Group weathers a management makeover that began in September with the replacement of longtime DIMG chief Steve Wadsworth with two new executives from outside the company: John Pleasants, who came over months earlier from Disney acquisition Playdom, and Yahoo’s James Pitaro.
With DIMG dragging in recent quarterly earnings reports, Disney CEO Bob Iger was looking for new leadership to revitalize the unit and make good on his reputation as a digital-friendly mogul.
Yanover was one of Wadsworth’s top lieutenants alongside Graham Hopper, who vacated his post as resident gaming guru in November not long after Pleasants assumed control of that portion of DIMG’s business. As executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, Yanover was in charge of a portfolio of branded sites that has since become Pitaro’s bailiwick.
Yanover will best be remembered at Disney for the dramatic transformation he led at Disney’s flagship website, which went from a browser-based brochure to a content feast as deep and varied as Disneyland itself. He ramped up a mix of online video, gaming and “creativity tools” that have made Disney.com a true destination for parents and children.
In the process, he took Disney Online up to a peak of 36 million unique visitors in July, according to Comscore (NSDQ: SCOR). He nearly tripled revenues for those sites over the past four years to $60 million, according to sources.
In addition, he spearheaded the formation of a parenting-themed suite of websites that delivered 8 million uniques, including Kaboose, FamilyFun and Babyzone. Yanover also led development on a range of sponsored original video programs that leveraged Disney intellectual property from the Muppets to “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher.
Whether Yanover and Hopper will be replaced or whether the current management structure in place at DIMG will remain intact are open questions as both Pleasants and Pitaro have maintained radio silence since coming aboard. DIMG is a sprawling array of assets across many different and evolving business lines that will likely keep them busy getting to know their new digs well into the new year.
There are still members of Wadsworth’s senior leadership team in place, including Larry Shapiro, executive vice president of strategy and business development, as well as CFO Bruce Gordon.
The four and a half years Yanover spent running Disney Online marked his second tour of duty with the company. Yanover started at Disney in 1991 with Disney’s feature animation division, but left to start consumer electronics company Ceiva in 1999. He returned for another eight-year stint at Disney in 2002 as senior vice president of Buena Vista Game Entertainment Studio and then Disney Parks and Resorts Online.
Unknown is whether Yanover has his next job set up; he will work through January to help with the transition.
Subject: New Opportunities
After much thought and consideration, I am announcing my decision to leave Disney Online and pursue new opportunities outside the company. I have enjoyed many memorable and rewarding years at Disney, and the past four and half years at DOL have been an amazing journey. I count myself extremely fortunate to have worked with such a talented team – your collective energy, creativity and commitment have made this role a truly amazing and unforgettable experience.
I am so proud of the enormous accomplishments we have made together in such a short period of time – it is hard to believe how much has happened in these past few years including a total re-launch of Disney.com and the building out of our Mom’s network, to significant growth in business results – we have made a huge impact! Our audience reach and engagement has seen tremendous growth and along the way we have produced many innovative products including games, original videos, immersive destinations, and creativity tools. Together, our collective work has reached and will continue to reach millions of kids & families everyday, providing entertainment, inspiration and information in a uniquely Disney way.
I will keep you posted as new things take shape for me. Meanwhile, I will be working through January to help transition things as needed.
Thank you for all of your great work and friendship.