Fox Won’t Replace Nesvig

News Corp. won’t replace retiring Fox Broadcasting ad sales president Jon Nesvig, but instead will tap current number twos—Jean Rossi (entertainment sales) and Neil Mulcahy (sports sales)—to oversee their respective units without an overall direct sales boss, sources familiar with the situation told Mediaweek.

The duo would instead report to Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group.

While several Fox insiders said that former head of MTV Network ad sales, Hank Close, who spent 12 years in Fox ad sales before departing in 1999, is among those being considered for Nesvig‘s post, another in a position to know said “the rumor that Hank would be replacing Jon when he retires has been around for a long time.”

Close joined Fox in 1987 and became svp of ad sales in 1993, serving six years in that role under Nesvig before departing to become president of ad sales at Comedy Central. After four years there, he jumped to head MTV ads sales in 2004 and served there until 2008. Since that time he has run his own consulting business. Calls made to Close for comment were not returned.

Fox confirmed last week that Nesvig would be retiring at the end of this year after serving as head of Fox ad sales under various titles since joining the company 21 years ago. Nesvig is also a svp of Fox Television.

Fox spokesperson Elissa Johansmeier told Mediaweek “no succession plan has been announced,” but  sources familiar with the situation believe a plan is already in place.

“Jon would never have announced his retirement unless he knew that a plan was in place for a successor that he would be comfortable with on the sales side at Fox,” said one Fox insider.

Replacing Nesvig, the dean of the broadcast network  sales chiefs, will not be easy. And possibly the person who will miss him most is News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. Over the years, Murdoch came to trust Nesvig’s opinions and has used him as a sounding board not only for sales decisions, but also on Fox programming matters. Nesvig is one of a handful of News Corp. execs that Murdoch keeps in regular cell phone contact with.

The best thing about Jon was a sales voice straight to the top, to Rupert,“ said one long-time media agency buying executive. “Jon had that pipeline and used it to the benefit of Fox and his sales group.”

“Jon is one of the best,“ said Tim Spengler, president of Initiative USA, who before his rise to head the media agency, had to face Nesvig in upfront negotiations.

If parent News Corp. does choose to promote from within or not bring in an outsider to oversee ad sales, it would be in keeping with what most of the other broadcast networks have done over the past decade when their sales chiefs have departed.

When CBS sales president Joe Abruzzese left for Discovery in 2002, CBS promoted JoAnn Ross from svp of ad sales. Bill Morningstar, who left The CW in 2008 to move to the MLB Network, was succeeded by his number two Rob Tuck. And when Mike Shaw retired as ABC sales chief late last year, he was replaced by Geri Wang, his number two.

Without daytime, evening news or late night dayparts, Fox is less likely than the other Big Three broadcast networks to need someone as an overseer of prime time and sports. And after working both at Fox and under Nesvig for so many years, both Rossi and Mulcahy are indoctrinated in his strategy and the Fox system. Bringing in an outsider might make for a difficult transition. But bringing back someone like Close, who spent 12 years at Fox earlier in his career, would make the transition easier since he also worked under Nesvig.
News Corp. officials have two months to announce its decision, and if company insiders are correct that Nesvig has already signed off on how he’ll be succeeded, then there is really no rush to make it public.