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How Anne Sweeney Is Changing the Way We Watch TV

In the beginning, every business thought social networking was an advertising tool.

“We quickly realized that it isn’t. In fact, you are kicked out of the club if you are there flogging a new show,” says Anne Sweeney, the president of Disney/ABC Television, who is featured in the April 2014 issue of SUCCESS. (To read the cover story, subscribe for instant access by clicking here.) “But what you can do is to use it to continue the conversation.”

Often those conversations lead to a deeper understanding of what your customers want and need from the business to continue their relationship.

“The nice thing about social media is that you know instantly,” says Sweeney, who recently announced she is pursuing a creative career in television directing and leaving Disney/ABC. “It’s a very honest medium and a very fast report card.”

Sweeney’s emphasis on digital technology and social networking has provided a perfect boost to ABC’s hit series Scandal, which has become the model of television’s potential to create an online community, with obsessive fans tweeting and Facebooking about every twist and turn as they watch the fast-moving drama. In addition, series creator Shonda Rhimes and her staff engage in interactive discussions with fans about the show.

“ABC saw what we were doing was working and then went out of their way to support us,” Rhimes says. “When the live tweeting ended up being a much larger thing, they really got behind us.”

Creative TV people like Rhimes would never want their shows to simply be on in the background while “viewers” carry on about their business doing laundry or filing their nails. “This is changing the way we watch television, because you have to watch live,” Rhimes says of the attention and immediacy of watching and reacting with the online community.

Sweeney says the best approach to social networking is to remain honest.

“The essence of all of this is being who you are,” Sweeney says. “Talk about what you are really interested in and what you are good at.”

And the followers will follow.


Anne Sweeney embraces evolution in the television industry. Read about how she’s driving progress with service to viewers in the April 2014 SUCCESS cover story, available for your desktop, mobile or tablet device.

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