Q&A: Discovery’s New Ad Sales Chief on Taking Over From a Legend

Ben Price succeeds Joe Abruzzese and preps for this year's upfronts

“The linear business is no longer just a traditional business,” Price says.
Chris Loupos

Adweek: After Joe Abruzzese announced his retirement in July, you worked on your transition through the end of the year. How was that process?
Ben Price: It was pretty seamless. I worked with Joe for 14 years, and have been with the company for 27 years. It was a real luxury to be able to have that transition of four or five months. We made sure everything was staying in line for that current year, but it gave me the opportunity to start looking and building for the future.

What was the biggest thing Joe taught you?
The No. 1 thing I took away from Joe was how positive and healthy relationships—whether it’s a business or personal relationship—are built on trust and respect. That legacy will continue. It’s certainly the way I operate and I feel very strongly about that.

Is there a network or platform you’re particularly excited about focusing on?
The linear business is no longer just a traditional business, because TV is evolving, with new technologies and capabilities. Our Go pieces [the TV Everywhere apps encompassing Discovery’s nine networks] are digital, but they are TV properties. We took our sales organization and made them convergent over the last 18 months: Our digital-only folks were learning the linear business while our linear team was learning digital, and now they can sell them together and reap the benefits of both. Certainly linear is the lion’s share of our business, but the real growth areas are out of those Go properties.

Going into upfronts, will you still be holding smaller client meetings instead of the big annual event you used to throw, or will you change up that approach?
It will be changed up a little bit, but here’s the one thing we’ve learned from it: Much like having properties that are customized and personal, it’s really important that we do the same thing when we present to our agencies—that we can talk about accounts that are specific to that agency, that we have the ability to talk to folks that are not only in the media departments of those groups, but the account and sometimes the creative teams. So we see more people, and a more diverse group, by doing it that way. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, so we’re going to continue that.

How do you continue last year’s upfront momentum as you head into this year?
On the linear business, we’ve really come out of the gate this year. TLC has been on fire, our flagship network has very much been on brand and getting some ratings traction, ID is unstoppable and OWN is the No. 1 network for African-American women. But what will be really exciting to go into the marketplace with is the fact that we’ve always talked about how we own our own content, and now it’s more important than ever. With our IP [intellectual property], we can create customized, specific programs and pieces for every platform now, and we’re encouraging advertisers to do their own customized creative. And if they can’t do it, we can do some of it in-house. That’s something we can really expand on and run across so many of the platforms we have.

Specs
Current gig President, national ad sales for Discovery Communications
Previous gig Evp, national ad sales
Age 59

This story first appeared in the Feb. 27, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.