Almost two months after being passed over for the top ad sales job as Discovery closed its merger with Scripps, former Discovery Communications ad sales chief Ben Price has announced he’ll be leaving the combined company—now called Discovery Inc.—at the conclusion of this year’s upfront.
Price had been with the company for 28 years, taking over as president of national ad sales for Discovery Communications in 2016 after the retirement of legendary longtime chief Joe Abruzzese, who had spent 46 years in the business.
But when Discovery closed its purchase of Scripps last month, Discovery CEO David Zaslav tapped Scripps ad sales chief Jon Steinlauf, and not Price, to oversee ad sales for the combined company. Steinlauf was named chief U.S. advertising sales officer for the combined company, now called Discovery Inc., with Price reporting to him.
“Ben has been instrumental in building Discovery’s strong reputation in the marketplace with clients and agency partners, securing major ad sales agreements across all of our brands, and mentoring and developing hundreds of ad sales executives in his nearly 30 years with the company,” Zaslav said in a memo to staffers announcing Price’s departure. “Most importantly, Ben is a class act … one of the most trusted and well-regarded ad sales executives in the business and one of the most beloved longstanding leaders at our company.”
Zaslav continued, “Ben has created countless win-win deals that leave our partners feeling valued and Discovery stronger. For all these reasons and many more, he will be greatly missed.”
In a statement, Price said he looked forward to “to working with Jon to help steer the team through our first joint Upfront selling season as a combined company and facilitate a seamless transition.”
“Our business has changed a lot in the nearly 30 years that I’ve been a part of it, and there are many new and intriguing opportunities out there,” he continued. “I’m super excited about it. However, the first thing on my agenda following Upfront will be spending time back home in Los Angeles with my family.”
In two interviews with Adweek since the Discovery-Scripps merger was finalized, Steinlauf had declined to discuss which duties Price would have in the new structure, or his plans to combine the Discovery and Scripps ad sales teams.
“I’m going to partner with Ben to understand the sales strategy and positioning for those channels so that we can connect and combine the strengths of the organization as a whole,” Steinlauf said in March.
But ahead of the company’s first combined New York upfront earlier this month, Steinlauf acknowledged that “there’s going to be change, probably later in the year,” as he integrated the two teams. “Right now, we’re all focused on the upfront.”
So are buyers, who told Adweek that of all the unprecedented uncertainty facing media companies heading into this upfront, Discovery would likely provide the biggest immediate challenge for them.
Historically, Scripps was “always a tough one to negotiate with, because they negotiate from a position of strength,” according to one buyer. But with Discovery’s broader portfolio, “we usually didn’t get killed on pricing, and they usually did pretty well on volume on the networks they needed it on, and everyone walked away happy. With Jon Steinlauf overseeing all of it, what approach is he going to take?”
After the merger was finalized, Steinlauf had just two weeks to pull together the company’s first combined upfront for the first of seven events, which was held March 20 in Detroit. The upfront presentations ended yesterday, with the final event held in L.A.
Price, who started his career working at Turner Broadcasting and Xerox, joined Discovery in 1989 as an ad sales account executive and rose through the ranks. After taking over ad sales from Abruzzese, he told Adweek last year that he intended to continue his mentor’s legacy at Discovery:
“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,” Price said.