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Big Buzz Around Ad Sales Exec Shakeup

10/28/2011 04:38:20 PM

The ad sales world is still buzzing about the game of musical chairs played by top-level executives at NBCUniversal and Turner Broadcasting and waiting for the next shoes to drop.

The big bombshells hit October 24 when Linda Yaccarino left her post as executive VP and chief operating officer for advertising sales and acquisitions at Turner Entertainment Networks, to join NBC Universal, though at press time NBCU has made no announcement that she’s been hired.

Then David Cassaro, the Comcast veteran who in January had been put in charge of NBCU’s cable ad sales by Comcast’s choice as NBCU’s new CEO, Steve Burke, told his staff he was leaving, not coincidentally creating an opening for Yaccarino.

Behind the scenes, Yaccarino’s contract was up at the end of the year and while negotiating with Turner she was looking for a bigger job. Her broader ambitions at Turner were blocked by the company’s structure and the presence of the well-regarded David Levy, who in addition to being head of advertising, is also in charge of sports and distribution. Levy, of course, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

After working at Turner for 18 years, the negotiating window in Yaccarino’s contract closed Friday, October 21. She sought an extension, sources said. Turner gave her the weekend, and wanted a commitment by the following Monday.

For Yaccarino, one bigger job would be at NBCU overseeing both broadcast and cable ad sales as Mike Pilot had when GE controlled the media company. Many observers expected Cassaro’s portfolio to include both broadcast and cable when Comcast took over, but that didn’t happen, so the expectation is it won’t happen for Yaccarino either.

Some observers say NBCU is so big it needs someone with authority over both sides of TV to make the cable networks leave a few dollars on the table and accept deals that could benefit the broadcast network and the broadcast network accept deals that could benefit the cable operations.

That would have been a huge job, but in a place like NBCU, populated by powerful executives with big personalities and sharp elbows, any plan to shift that much power raised objections. Some executives said there was enough concern from high-ranking execs like NBC Chairman Ted Harbert, who now has the network’s ad sales head Marianne Gambelli reporting to him, to shoot down the plan.

Left with a weekend to decide if he wanted Yaccarino, Burke opted to ask Cassaro, who had managed a strong upfront performance, to step down, creating a convenient opening. Cassaro’s job is somewhat larger than the one at Turner in terms of revenue and probably carries a bigger paycheck. But Yaccarino loses the oversight over acquired programming she had at Turner.

If the paperwork clears and Yaccarino - who came recommended by Mark Lazarus, the former Turner executive now running NBC Sports, and Pat Fili-Krushel, NBCU’s head of human resources who had previous been with Turner parent Time Warner - joins NBCU, she will report to the company’s high-profile cable execs Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick.

While Yaccarino might want to bring in some people, the move may still benefit former NBCU Cable staffers, who worried that plum positions would go to execs who’d worked under Cassaro at Comcast Networks. Sources said Cassaro had plans to reorganize the NBCU Cable sales force, but couldn’t get both Hammer and Zalaznick to sign off.

Meanwhile, back at Turner, David Levy has become a very popular guy with a huge job or some large jobs to fill, depending on hew decides to replace Yaccarino. In his memo to staff he praised Yaccarino’s contribution but noted that the network has a deep bench of sales staff.

The departure of Yaccarino could create headroom for some of Turner’s top sales execs. Instead of naming one exec to fill her shoes, Levy could opt to promote execss at each of the entertainment networks, TNT, TBS and TruTV.

Or, some observers speculated, that because NBC hired a big name, Levy might want to go out and hire a big name as well.

Stay tuned.

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