As the media recession slowly subsides, or, depending on who you talk to, rests on pause, CEOs, owners and directors who have seen their companies come though the wilderness obviously are beholden to the people who help lead the way out.
Mediaweek 50, AdweekMedia’s annual compilation of these “indispensables,” focuses on individuals that advanced innovation, revenue and influence for their companies, often under a ton of pressure. Many on this list—compiled, debated and packaged by Mediaweek’s editors Jim Cooper, Anthony Crupi, Mike Shields, Lucia Moses, Katy Bachman, Marc Berman, Alan Frutkin and Adweek network TV and media agency editor Steve McClellan—are new, running breakout businesses like Twitter and Huffington Post that were the stuff of fervent whispers and rushed signatures on NDAs just a few years ago.
The list is increasingly focused on digital innovators as companies such as Condé Nast and traditional media agencies advance themselves by transitioning to an online and mobile reality. On the other hand the list is also TV heavy, reflecting the medium’s resurgence in both the upfront and scatter market. Cable is especially ascendant, with momentum that is embodied by the dynamic duo of Turner’s David Levy and Steven Koonin in the No. 1 slot.
They reached that perch by convincing Conan O’Brien to make his new late-night home on cable, playing big in sports with a groundbreaking pact with CBS on NCAA hoops and nearing pricing parity with broadcasters in this year’s upfront. —Editors
For a two-part, introductory Mediaweek 50 video click below:
Here’s the 2010 Mediaweek 50 list:
1. David Levy: president, sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting; and Steve Koonin: president, Turner Entertainment Networks
Conan O’Brien looks like a guy who’s lived out every road cliché in the American metal songbook. The day is heaving itself toward noon and the talk-show host is leaning his Giacometti frame against a wall near the foot of the staircase at New York’s Del Posto restaurant. As he begins chatting to a scrum of reporters, O’Brien looks at once world-weary and ebullient.
It turns out he’s humming along on about two hours of sleep, having flown in to New York in the midst of a 32-city comedy tour. O’Brien had assured Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin that he would kick off the company’s upfront presentation, and while he continues in the same arch and goofy vein that informed his routine earlier in the morning, the snappy patter accordions in on itself once he’s asked about his split with NBC.
“I want to move on,” he says, brushing the question aside. “I really just want to be funny on television. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Koonin is more than happy to help O’Brien move on, ushering him away from the huddle of outstretched tape recorders and spiral notepads. The juxtaposition of the comedian, who stands 6’ 4” in his stocking feet, and Koonin, who most assuredly does not, is mildly funny in and of itself. When Koonin returns, he’s beaming.
“If you had told me five years ago that we’d be working with Conan and Andre [Braugher] and Kyra Sedgwick, I would have asked you to submit to a drug test,” he says.
A few months later, after David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting, has wrapped the group’s most lucrative upfront in its history, Koonin still sounds like he can’t quite get his head around his own good fortune. “It’s almost surreal: In 60 days [on Nov. 8], Conan launches on TBS. The network has never had that one definitive element, that defining personality. Conan is the absolute epitome of smart, funny TV, and for us to be in cahoots with him is a terrific accomplishment.”
Landing O’Brien was no mean feat. This spring, while the former Tonight Show host was in serious talks with Fox, Turner programming chief Michael Wright pitched an 11 p.m. TBS show to O’Brien’s manager. When Team Coco voiced its concerns about George Lopez getting shoved out of the time slot (much the same circumstances had aggrieved O’Brien while NBC attempted to mop up its Leno mess), Koonin flew in to Los Angeles to give the comic his personal assurances that Lopez was willing to do whatever it took to accommodate TBS’ new star.
Talks proceeded so expeditiously that the story did not have time to leak out through the usual media channels. In fact, once Turner announced the hire, Levy was immediately deluged with queries from clients looking to get in on the fun. “I was like, ‘You guys, we haven’t even settled on a date.’” Levy recalls. “That there was already so much interest in Conan as a person and as a comedy brand, I just knew that the demand for ad time was going to be off-the-charts huge.”
In addition to setting the stage for what could be the start of another cable heist––late-night may be the next block to get whisked away from the base of broadcast’s Jenga tower, joining news, kids and, in large part, sports––for Levy, the Conan deal marks a turning point for the ad sales market.
“This is the first program on ad-supported cable to get broadcast CPMs,” he says. In securing CPMs in Letterman and Leno territory, Levy won the first victory in his ongoing battle to repeal what he calls TV’s legacy tax. “We’re still not at a parity with all our original series, but we’re getting closer all the time,” Levy says. “Conan’s the proof we have when we say you can’t just throw all this stuff in a separate cable bucket. That’s just not going to work anymore.’”
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is another ostrich feather in Turner’s cap. When CBS looked to shore up its stewardship of March Madness, the broadcaster saw that it could use some help carrying the load. In a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal, CBS and Turner agreed to share the rights to the tourney, which will bring the National Championship game to cable for the first time in 2016.
Not surprisingly, Levy is commanding broadcast bucks for NCAA games on TNT, TBS and truTV. “We’re not selling our time any differently than CBS,” Levy says. “The CPMs for the tournament will be uniform across all four networks.”
Conan’s not the only story to tell about Turner, but he certainly is the sexiest, even if his capricious red beard puts one in mind of a Boston-Irish Unabomber. But money’s pretty damn sexy too, and the Koonin-Levy battery is nothing if not a hypercaffeinated ATM that spits out twenties embossed with Angie Harmon’s picture.
Per Time Warner’s most recent earnings, the Turner nets tallied up $1 billion in ad sales in the second quarter, an improvement of 14 percent over the year-ago $876 million. During the summer bazaar, Levy locked in CPM increases of 9-10 percent above last year’s upfront, on the way to pumping up overall dollar volume by 20 percent.
As long as ad sales and affiliate revenue continue to climb, parent company Time Warner will have the checkbook at the ready. “Increased investment in originals is a key element in our strategy,” says chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, adding that the greater the selection of original programs that hit Turner’s air, the greater the potential profits.
In July, the net launched the highest-rated new cable series of the summer, Harmon’s Rizzoli & Isles, and as the sun sets on the hot season, TNT and TBS are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among the crucial 18-49 demo.
Koonin, who is perhaps nearly as competitive as Levy (who is roughly as combative as, say, Kobe Bryant), can’t resist cracking wise when he talks about his competition.
“Honestly, I only hope the same people who are running the broadcast networks today can stay in their jobs for the next 10 years,” he jokes. “I’ll be bloody rich.” —Anthony Crupi
2. Steve Burke: COO, Comcast Corp. and president of Comcast Cable
The ultimate executive behind the executive, Burke, under the watchful eye of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, has the singularly complicated and groundbreaking task of marrying both the businesses and cultures of the Philadelphia-based cable giant and the far-flung content assets of NBC Univeral. The task falls to an unflappable family man who has been the steadfast captain of Comcast’s rapid expansion; in the past decade, annual revenue has increased sixfold to $35.8 billion.
It’s unclear exactly what role Burke, often seen these days at 30 Rock, might play in the merged company. The flagship net has endured a bumpy ride of late and the NBC affiliate group, like all TV-station holdings, weathered a dire stretch during the recession. While his boss has pledged loyalty to the TV-station business, it’ll be up to Burke to make it work.
In the positive column, Comcast, as a distributor, gets an unprecedented content suite to add to its other entertainment and sports holdings. The dual revenue stream of advertising and sub fees, both at huge scale, will keep the lights on in Philly, New York and L.A. for a long while.
Lampooned by Tina Fey in NBC’s 30 Rock—“It’s Kabletown, with a ‘K.’”—Comcast should make for a sober, steady counterpoint to the GE culture the series so deliciously skewers. 2009 RANK: New
3. Sheryl Sandberg: COO, Facebook
As Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg has sway over everything from business and product development to advertising. After several years of fielding the question ‘Can social networking sites actually cash in on all their traffic?’ Facebook’s ad outlook has brightened considerably—due in large part to Sandberg’s influence.
Per eMarketer, the site should pull in $1.2 billion in ad revenue this year. Zuckerberg and Sandberg have smartly resisted plastering the site with massive takeover ads or banners. Instead, they’ve pushed the concept of engagement, encouraging advertisers to take advantage of the site’s organic, sharing nature.
Besides the ad turnaround, Facebook membership recently eclipsed a staggering 500 million globally. At the same time, Facebook’s Web footprint has continued to balloon. The site’s Facebook Connect product is fast becoming a universal log-in platform for the Web, having been integrated on properties including NYTimes.com, The Huffington Post and TVGuide.com.
And now the company is going after location-based platforms like Foursquare with the launch of Facebook Places, which allows users to alert their friends of their whereabouts as they check in to various locations. As a result, many observers anticipate a boom of local ads on the site. 2009 RANK: 8
4. Arianna Huffington: editor in chief, HuffingtonPost.com
A recent article in The New York Times discussed how several newspapers are starting to use traffic patterns to help guide their news coverage. Imagine that! A publisher analyzing what people are actually reading on their site, and responding accordingly.
Huffington Post, the self-named Internet newspaper, has been doing that for years. The site constantly analyzes what stories and headlines readers are responding to, and isn’t afraid to shift gears in the course of a day.
Thinking like that has made HuffPo revolutionary in online media and Huffington herself something of a visionary. Launched in 2005 as a mostly left-leaning political blog forum, Huffington Post now covers everything from sports to style to religion and the arts. The site reached 24.4 million unique users in August (comScore) while generating a staggering 3.4 million comments during the same month. By year’s end, it should pull in $30 million in revenue. Meanwhile, Huffington continues to pen best-selling books, make regular appearances on shows like MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and contribute frequently to HuffPo.
Still, it’s the Web where Huffington continues to have her greatest impact. While traditional publishers hem and haw over whether they should blog or aggregate, her team has helped weaved social media into the very fabric of Huffington Post. Maybe she’s a progressive after all. 2009 RANK: 15
5. Dave Cassaro: president of Comcast Network Advertising Sales
It’s a tricky thing, succession, particularly when the exec who appears poised to make the most progress up the ladder isn’t officially aligned with the division he’s expected to lead. Suffice it to say that those in the know believe it’s a safe bet that Dave Cassaro will be handling as much as $10 billion in ad sales once the Comcast-NBC Universal deal is approved by federal regulators.
Leaving aside Cassaro’s long-overdue ascension—Comcast can’t formally address any housekeeping matters until the merger is signed, sealed and delivered—the veteran’s track record speaks for itself. Responsible for managing inventory on E!, Style Network, Versus, Golf Channel, G4, and all Comcast Nets video-on-demand platforms, Cassaro oversees nearly three-quarters of a billion in annual ad sales revenue.
Under Cassaro, the Comcast nets rebounded from last year’s recession, boasting the greatest growth (percentile) in second quarter, as a 21 percent gain in ad sales dollars contributed to an overall haul of $454 million.
With the NBCU nets, Cassaro will have the opportunity to sell the Comcast sports portfolio with premiere holdings like NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Notre Dame football, Wimbledon and the Olympics. He’ll also have Bravo and Oxygen to pair with E! and Style, not to mention NBC’s 18 hours of prime-time drama, comedy and reality series. 2009 RANK: 22
6. Jeff Gaspin: chairman, NBCU Television Entertainment
Elevated to his current post in July ’09, Gaspin oversees all business, creative, production, distribution and marketing for NBC Entertainment, as well as the cable outlets USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and Spanish-language outlets Telemundo and Mun2—and the roll call doesn’t end there. You could say that Gaspin has an awful lot on his plate.
In January, Gaspin was charged with the thankless task of cleaning up after the Conan-Leno debacle. Ever the straight shooter, Gaspin last week said that NBC had probably pushed its penny-pinching ways too far, adding that the increased investment in original programming would be manifest throughout the 2010-11 prime-time lineup. (Analysts estimate the net has committed an additional $150 million to the budget versus a year ago.)
While media buyers have been rather underwhelmed by the net’s fall lineup, the good news is that the fourth-place broadcaster finished the season just behind ABC among the core 18-49 demo. If new series like The Event, Chase and Undercovers can find an audience, NBC has a shot at redeeming itself with viewers and advertisers.
Gaspin has little to fear on the cable side of the ledger. USA Network dominates the basic-cable lineup, winning its fifth straight summer in prime with total viewers and the three top demos. 2009 RANK: 1
7. Rino Scanzoni: CIO, GroupM/Chairman Mediaedge:cia
With oversight of annual client expenditures of nearly $25 billion, Rino Scanzoni is one agency exec that North America media firms would be bonkers to ignore.
And when he’s not helping to make the market during the upfront, Scanzoni is leading the charge on any number of industry issues. Earlier this year, for example, Scanzoni was a vocal opponent of Nielsen’s decision to eliminate live local ratings for spot TV. Scanzoni argued the proposed measurement would force clients to pay for viewing they weren’t getting because it included viewers who were skipping ads. Ultimately, the ratings company reversed its decision.
Scanzoni has also been busy streamlining the buying operations he oversees at the four GroupM media agencies, Mindshare, MEC, MediaCom and Maxus. Under his watch, a number of functions have been pulled out of the agencies and brought to the GroupM level, including spot TV, where two units now handle trading for all four shops.
The 30-year media veteran has his eye on the industry’s future, when ad buying in the TV sector, he believes, will be all about targetability: marrying set-top box measurement capabilities with addressable technologies to get relevant ads in front of viewers.
And as the industry grapples with addressability and other key issues, Scanzoni will surely continue to be front and center in the debates. 2009 RANK: 7
8. Scott Dadich: corporate executive director of digital magazine development, Condé Nast
Condé Nast has hardly been seen as a pioneer when it comes to digital media. Until this year, that is. Instrumental in that change was Scott Dadich, whose work on a digital version of Wired ended up becoming the foundation for the company’s e-reader strategy.
Dadich originally started thinking about e-reader tablets as part of a side project for Wired two years ago. But Condé Nast corporate bigs quickly saw his work could help the company adapt its other titles to future e-readers and help recapture the revenue that all publishers are losing to the Web.
Wired’s iPad app sold around 107,000 downloads at $4.99 apiece when it launched in June, well above its average newsstand sales and putting it at the high end of paid magazine app downloads. July’s sales were reported at 30,000 at $3.99 per.
It’s widely assumed that based on the Wired app’s positive reviews, the rest of CN’s titles will eventually follow the Adobe model. (The New Yorker’s app is set to roll out soon on the Adobe track.)
Dadich was promoted to his corporate title (while keeping his Wired creative director duties) in July in recognition of his work on the Adobe Wired app.
Certainly not bad for Dadich, and further validation for Wired in the Condé Nast rarefied and fashion-focused realm. 2009 RANK: New
9. John Partilla: president, global media sales, Clear Channel
Named in June 2009 to the new position of global media sales, responsible for cross-platform sales across the company’s radio, outdoor and digital assets, Partilla has been able to leverage Clear Channel’s multimedia assets when repeated attempts over the years failed.
Instead of merely bundling assets, the company is now offering its assets as solutions to marketing problems in an attempt to change the paradigm of how radio and outdoor go to market.
Partilla also launched Clear Channel Create, a council of creative experts across the company to help develop stand-out creative campaign approaches for advertisers. To kick-start the strategy, the former Time Warner exec set up an upfront-like effort to get the nation’s biggest advertisers to think more long-term about radio and outdoor and ultimately sign yearlong commitments.
Initiated in early summer, the company’s sales effort recognized that the industry’s biggest, national customers should get priority treatment and preferred access and pricing, similar to TV.
So far, the company’s “upfront” has resulted in earlier bookings and 20 new assignments in excess of $10 million in commitments going into 2011 from advertisers such as Kodak, Qwest, Dunkin’ Donuts, AOL and Ask.com. 2009 RANK: New
10. Alan Cohen: CEO, OMD USA
From so-called “pod-puncher” ads on network TV to the use of micro-digital technology to enhance the impact of print media, Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD USA, has been ahead of the pack in helping clients find innovative ways to use media to market their products. And there’s more to come.
Cohen had been a senior marketing executive for ABC, NBC and other media companies before joining Interpublic’s Initiative back in 2005. Two years ago he was recruited to Omnicom’s OMD as U.S. CEO, where he continues to find new ways for clients to use media.
One of his first moves was to set up an innovations unit called the Ignition Factory. Last year it created a groundbreaking tactic that paired two clients—CBS and Pepsi—in a single campaign that promotes the net’s new lineup and Pepsi’s zero-calorie drink Pepsi Max. The media vehicle: the first-time use of a micro video player in the fall preview issue of Entertainment Weekly.
Another first last year was Ignition Factory’s deal for the first ad campaign on Kindle. The work was for client Showtime that promoted the series Nurse Jackie.
Under Cohen’s helm, the shop has picked up a bundle of new business, including Dockers and Tobacco Free Florida earlier this year and last year’s $85 million Pepsi digital assignment. Next up: a new specialty marketing practice designed to help clients launch startup brands. 2009 RANK: New
11. Sue Naegel: president, HBO Entertainment; David Nevins: entertainment president, Showtime; Chris Albrecht, president Starz
OVERSIGHT: Naegle oversees series programming/development at HBO. Nevins does the same at Showtime, as does Albrecht at Starz. IMPACT: With 28.6 million subscribers, HBO remains the leader in pay cable, thanks to hit series like True Blood. (The vampire drama drew 5.38 million viewers with its season 3 finale.) At Showtime, series like Dexter, Weeds and Nurse Jackie have helped boost subs to 18.2 million. And despite offering the least amount of original programming of the three, Starz boasts 17.3 million subs. TRACTION: Although subscriptions are slightly down versus a year ago, HBO continues to set the standard for quality TV. Over at Showtime, Nevins has big shoes to fill, having replaced Robert Greenblatt as the net’s chief programmer. Meanwhile, HBO’s ex-chief Albrecht recently acquired U.S. TV rights for big foreign series for Starz. 2009 RANK: Naegle, 12; Nevins and Albrecht, New
12. Bonnie Hammer: president of NBCU, cable entertainment/cable studio
OVERSIGHT: Besides helming USA Network and SyFy, Hammer also rides herd on all original scripted content for NBCU’s cable group and emerging nets Chiller, Sleuth and Universal HD. IMPACT: The USA skipper is batting 1.000 with her original series, a roster of ratings sluggers that includes Royal Pains, Burn Notice and newcomer Covert Affairs. TRACTION: This summer USA averaged 3.46 million viewers in prime, beating its closest rival by nearly 1 million. The net has won core 18-49/25-54 demos five years running. Up next: sexy courtroom romp Facing Kate. 2009 RANK: 6
13. Joe Abruzzese: president of ad sales, Discovery Networks
OVERSIGHT: Sells 13 national nets, including megabrands Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet, as well as emerging property OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. IMPACT: Discovery in the first half of 2010 generated $595 million in ad revenue, an 11 percent lift from ’09. Some eight months before OWN’s launch, Abruzzese and OWN evp, ad sales Kathleen Kayse hashed out a $100 million deal with Procter & Gamble, making investors breathe a little easier about the net’s viability. TRACTION: GM and Kohl’s followed suit, and insiders estimate that 45 percent of the startup’s 2011 inventory is already sold out. 2009 RANK: 19
14. Ed Erhardt: president, ESPN consumer marketing and sales
OVERSIGHT: Erhardt manages inventory for all Disney sports assets across all media platforms. IMPACT: Even the guy who sells Monday Night Football faced some belt-tightening during the recession. With auto and insurance dollars having gone the way of the USFL, Erhardt deftly replaced those endemics with packaged goods and a haul of female-targeted brands. (Last season, women accounted for 33% of all NFL viewers.) TRACTION: With auto back, Erhardt is raking it in; ESPN enjoyed a 31 percent lift in (FY) Q3 ad sales. 2009 RANK: New