2006 Hot List: Albert Cheng

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a meeting last winter, Disney’s Anne Sweeney asked her top digital lieutenant, Albert Cheng, what he wanted to work on in 2006. His answer to the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group was immediate: broadband.

“That’s where I felt the next big opportunity was,” Mr. Cheng said.

So he set to work on the development of ABC’s bold online experiment to offer full-length episodes of its hit shows with limited commercial breaks at ABC.com, which went live May 1. The service was the TV industry’s first effort to offer episodes online in their entirety on a regular basis. In less than a month it generated 3 million streams.

That success is due in part to how simple the service is to use; episodes are easy to find and they play quickly. “It’s a good-quality experience for the viewer,” said Deb McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting, who chairs ABC’s broadband affiliates committee and wants to ensure that stations can participate in broadband ventures too. “[Mr. Cheng] is on the cutting edge of knowing what viewers want.”

While content, rights and advertising are critical, user experience stands by itself as the factor that can make or break a new service. “From product development, engineering, design, the mandate was it had to be so cool and blow everyone out of the water,” Mr. Cheng said.

Ease of use is one of the elements that made Disney’s landmark deal with iTunes back in October a success. Mr. Cheng was not involved in engineering that milestone deal. However, he was promoted at the same time, broadening his purview to include oversight of digital properties-not just on the cable networks but on broadcast too. Since then he has quickly risen in prominence in both the industry and the company as Disney’s new-media marshal.

“He impresses me as one of those next-gen executives who is not loyal to old-school business models,” said Kaan Yigit, an analyst with Solutions Research Group.

ABC.com is one of a handful of broadband projects being shepherded by Mr. Cheng. Disney Channel was slated to launch full-length episodes of shows in early June, with ABC Family to follow later the month. Toon Disney’s Jetix action-adventure programming block already carries full-length episodes of shows.

Mr. Cheng won’t reveal specifics about Disney’s next digital venture, but he hinted that it would involve taking these sites to the next level. “We are talking more user experience, functionality,” he said. “It’s all about the consumer. It doesn’t just have to be cool. You have to use it. Make it easy and make it simple.”

Mr. Cheng is responsible for product development, marketing and operations for digital media content platforms, including video-on-demand, broadband, Web, mobile and interactive TV. He joined Disney in 2000, handling distribution strategy for Disney Channel, which included launching Disney Channel’s on-demand product in 2001. Before joining Disney he worked for Fox Cable Networks. He has an MBA from Harvard University.

The Lowdown

Title: Executive VP of digital media, Disney-ABC Television Group

Date of birth: Nov. 24, 1970

Place of birth: Honolulu

Big break: When Disney hired him in 2000

Who knew?

In high school and in college at MIT, Mr. Cheng wrote music-folk, pop, R&B-and tried his luck at landing a recording contract. He played piano and guitar.