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Disney-ABC’s Anne Sweeney Does Her Own Market Research. Really.

That was just one of the things I learned during our breakfast interview at the Pierre Hotel here in New York recently. As president of Disney-ABC Television Group and the most powerful woman in television by many accounts, Sweeney certainly has no shortage of research at her fingertips telling her how viewers interact with ABC and Disney shows. For instance, she pointed out that about three-quarters of abc.com users are watching episodes at home, not at work. “So they tell us,” Sweeney said. “We’ll have to keep tracking it.”

That was just one of the things I learned during our breakfast interview at the Pierre Hotel here in New York recently. As president of Disney-ABC Television Group and the most powerful woman in television by many accounts, Sweeney certainly has no shortage of research at her fingertips telling her how viewers interact with ABC and Disney shows. For instance, she pointed out that about three-quarters of abc.com users are watching episodes at home, not at work. “So they tell us,” Sweeney said. “We’ll have to keep tracking it.”

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Digital technology is changing rapidly, which means media consumption is changing, too. Keeping up requires constant vigilance. “Thinking about technology is no longer a meeting on your calendar or an isolated exercise,” she says. “It’s something I think about every single day.”

Even on days when she’s being a mom instead of a high-powered executive. Sweeney, who’s based in Los Angeles, was on the East Coast primarily to visit college campuses with her daughter. Seven colleges in a week. Sweeney couldn’t help but notice how ubiquitous laptops were and which shows resonated with students (the lounge TV on one campus had a sign that read, “Reserved for Lost“). “The trip has definitely given me a view of this younger group’s experience with media that I don’t normally get,” she says. “It’s first-hand market research. I’ve got a thousand ideas from this.”

Not to mention a new appreciation for that generation’s WiFi expectations. “Last night, we checked into the hotel, my daughter said, ‘Oh, I’m so happy.’ I said, Because you’re in New York? She said, ‘No, because I finally have a signal.'”

Sweeney had to grin. “Yeah, that’s what I said to my mother on my college tour.”

Read more about Sweeney and Albert Cheng, Disney-ABC’s digital guru, in Brave New Mouse in the current issue.

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About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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