Upfront Central

Zalaznick Steers NBCU Cable Nets Toward Upfront

New sales chief Yaccarino brings relationships, pushes digital content 4/02/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

When Comcast took control of
NBCUniversal last year, Lauren
Zalaznick was named chairman,
NBCUniversal Entertainment
& Digital Networks
and Integrated Media. In
addition to overseeing the
Bravo and Oxygen cable
networks and marketing
initiatives such as Women
at NBCU, Zalaznick added
responsibilities for Spanishlanguage
Telemundo Media,
digital properties such as
Fandango and Daily Candy,
and Style cable network,
which will get rebranded
in June. Zalaznick spoke
to B&C business editor Jon
Lafayette as NBCU’s cable
networks got ready for the
upfront season. An edited transcript follows.

You got a lot of new responsibilities
last year. Have you fi gured out a way to
make them all fit together into a coherent
whole?

Running a portfolio of businesses, as opposed
to a singularly designed and defined set of
businesses, is really just a microcosm of the
big media company strategy. Top-line growth
is the driver for every single one of the businesses
while maintaining moderate and appropriate
cost confines. But at the same
time, every single business is through the
lens of great, high-quality, original content.

Upfront season starts for NBCU with Bravo
this week. Besides ratings, what factors
do you want media buyers to notice?

A rating is always important, but don't forget
what we've always delivered in cable has never
been truer, which is the value of a focused,
committed, actionable audience
that each of the networks
is delivering. And
I think we've done a phenomenal
job identifying the
lifestyle audience versus the
female audience versus the
digital audience, and how to
activate them. Every channel
is very focused on their
individual growth. At the
same time, I'm focused on
the portfolio's growth, so if
you take a brand like Mun2
or Style network, or even
Oxygen or Telemundo, you
are looking for great ! rsttime
clients who haven't
advertised on the channel. Some brands are
going to go for volume because they just
have so much more capacity than they did.
Some are going to go for the right client mix.

NBCU brought Linda Yaccarino on
board from Turner to head cable and
digital sales. What has she brought to
the party?

Linda is an outstanding salesperson and an
outstanding executive. She brings deep, deep
agency relationships and client relationships.
She brings a passion for cable ad sales and
digital ad sales. She looks at the portfolio
top to bottom and she never seems to have
a conversation about sales without implicitly
or explicitly talking about integrated sales.
So that's a lot of big-picture thinking. At the
same time Linda can really drive the art of
the deal. She seems to be driven to deliver
value on both sides of the table. With Linda,
it is truly seeking the long game, where the
relationship and the value proposition have
to be right, not just for us, but for the partner
on the other side of the negotiating table.

Do you expect this to be a successful
upfront season?

I'm expecting this to be a very successful
upfront season. The company and the individual
brands have a ton of value to offer,
and the economic state absolutely seems to
be leaning toward a very robust upfront for
cable. We're also going to be in the digital
NewFronts week, and I think we're still the
only major media company presenting. That
speaks to doing everything we've always done
even better, which is no small feat, including
selling cable for the right price with the right
volume, including digital in that, and making
our product available to the smartest and
most tuned-in and most aggressive buyers. I
have to give both Linda and my head of digital
strategy, Nick Lehman, credit because they
really came up with this idea and said we have
to be there. We are a digitally focused company.
We have product. We have a strategy.

Style is a new cable network in your
portfolio. How is it changing?

Style is in a massive growth period. It has
not just big hits for Style, but what I would
consider to be a substantial hit for any of my
channels in the form of Jerseylicious and Big
Rich Texas
. The increase in original programming
is significant there as well, and what's
coming that we also can't talk about right this
second is the repositioning and rebrand for
Style network, which will be coming in June.
I think the momentum at Style is what's going
to rocket-fuel us into the upfront period with
a best quarter ever, best year ever last year.
And so I think it's a matter of capturing all
things style, all things embodying and owning
the word style on the dial, which when you
think about it, no other brand has done.

Anything
exciting on the horizon for Oxygen?

Oxygen is
in a tremendous growth period. We are absolutely focused on our major increase
in original programming for 2012. We love our two new shows that premiered [last]
Monday and Tuesday night: Best Ink
and Brooklyn 11223. And we are most especially focused on the Glee Project returning for season two.
It is a stunning and spectacular cast with a very, very, very energetic season.
It's going to be a big deal.

Did Bravo
deliver on what it promised in last year's upfront?

I think it
did. We have new series on fire. We have best-evers for our returning series, I
think we still deliver on our absolutely unique promise which is food, fashion,
design, beauty and pop culture served to the most educated, most affluent
audience on television. And I think advertisers can't get enough of it.

Our focus
on the third screen, meaning co-viewing, co-sharing, as well as a focus on the original
content on television is an area that has never been more relevant to our
consumer. Tweeting or chatting or Facebooking while watching is the two-screen
element. The third being a way to have companion content at the same time or
near the same time, while being social while watching.

That's a
lot of work for the viewer, isn't it?

It sounds
like a lot, but it's very fluid and it's the way these very thirty-something
super-consumers-our affluencers-devour our content. It sounds exhausting but it
seems to work. Consumers are finding ways to do it themselves and we're taking
their lead and then serving it back to them with our content, which we're in
control of.

Is there a
demarcation between style at Style and fashion at Bravo?

I think
there absolutely is. I will leave it to the brand owners to articulate that at
their upfronts, but the fact of the matter is that Bravo is in this unique
place where fashion per se is a bucket
that we cover through big personalities for this affluent audience, whereas the
notion of style and the moniker Style is implicit in everything Style does for
a uniquely female audience [whereas Bravo is male-female] and committed to an
audience that through every single action, every single purchase, every single
relationship is driven to live their life stylishly. And that is evident in the
programming.

What's new
in digital in 2012?

What's new
for 2012 on the digital front is two kinds of things. A continued focus for a Daily
Candy and iVillage on top-notch original content for women. It's still an
underserved market for women.

At the
same time for 2012 there's going to be more and more transmedia plays for
Bravo, Oxygen and Style networks. They're going to create original companion
series with our original television product and continue to engage the viewers
online, not with long-form product but with special hand-crafted top notch
original content that goes with the TV product. And for 2012 the biggest
through line has got to be the continued exploration of social and mobile.

How different
are these businesses from one another in terms of the creating content and
distribution systems?

Any
advertising driven business is a matter of corralling the right number of
consumers, whether they're users or viewers, measuring that use correctly and
monetizing it appropriately. That is way easier said than done. We know how to
use the system for television that is called Nielsen. We are investigating and
debating and struggling at times as to how to commensurately monetize
impressions and eyeballs outside of the C3 window, because those are valuable
people watching, valuable commercials within the flight of a product. Then you
move into the means of digital distribution and even there there's such a
plethora of what we mean by digital distribution. We're not yet talking about
Netflix original programs, we're not yet talking about YouTube channels. What I
mean specifically is short-form and or long-form original content that usually
originates from the television screen on Website, mobile and social outlets.
And there, I think we've done a very good job associating digital content to
the television in the form of what we've called 360 deals for years and years.
But at the same time I think Bravo, as a leader in the buzzword "transmedia," has
really taken the leading edge on content associated with a top-notch product
like Top Chef, and driving immense
traffic: Millions and millions, not hundreds and hundreds of thousands, and
monetizing it appropriately. In the same way, I think the Glee Project on Oxygen was a trailblazer in that space last year
and the Glee Project 2, through our product
called Oxygen Connect, will also both capture the right number of eager fans
and seek to monetize it. And that spans Web and mobile, which is yet another
advance.

And then
you take, even in my digital portfolio, we're really finding a great, great,
great interest in the Fandango business. I'm sure you saw the Hunger Game's box office [on its opening weekend]. We were selling at its peak
on Thursday night and Friday 60,000 tickets an hour on Fandango. And we ended
up Thursday at midnight through Sunday night
selling 22% of the tickets sold of the opening weekend box total through
Fandango, 40% of those on mobile. So there I will say that is a different
business because this is an e-commerce business. You hit ‘confirm transaction'
at the end of your session and there's a commercial transaction. Now, at the
same time, it's a very comfortable dual revenue stream for us and we know all
about dual revenue in cable and of course at the network with retransmission
now. But the point is if I have an e-commerce and advertising dual stream at
Fandango, I know how to measure myself. Do I want to drive that to be 50-50
ticket sales and ad sales? That way I'm hedged if the box office goes down year
over year. And I'm hedged if the advertising market online is challenged. So
that's what I mean by kind of learning from a lot of the new businesses in the
portfolio, but using what we know to drive those new businesses.

In what
ways do these businesses work together and do you encourage that?

From the
top down it is a core strategic mandate from me to my direct reports and from [NBCU
CEO] Steve Burke to his direct reports that yields tremendous cooperation
throughout the company. So I even prefer to take it a step further and say
yeah, it goes without saying, that cross-promotion for shows that may deliver
on similar audiences within my portfolio or promotional runs of full-length
programs, advertising clients. As you know, I run integrated media, advertising
clients that are best served looking inside my portfolio and outside my
portfolio; there are real, measurable ways of gaining cooperation.

I have two
TV screens in my office. It used to be easy. I had Bravo and Oxygen on. Now I
have a lot more and I have to flip them around. So, today happens to be Style
and Telemundo. And all morning long, Telemundo was covering the Pope's visit
[to Latin
America].
This is an immense event, both in Cuba and Mexico, and NBC News has been
formally involved in helping Telemundo News-Noticias Telemundo-in the sense
that their Cuban bureau is very, very strong. In addition to NBC News-and by
the same token-Telemundo News' deep bureau roots and longstanding presence in
Mexico City has been a real help and assist to NBC News. And it is a measurable
result. I think everybody knows NBC News is stellar and No. 1, etc., but during
the Pope's coverage, our L.A. station was the No. 1 local news broadcast with
the Pope coverage from Mexico and that's not an everyday occurence for that L.A.
station. Throughout the company, that kind of synergy is synergy in a good way,
not the old ‘80s evil way.

What would
you say was your biggest accomplishment in 2011?

I would
say embracing the Telemundo businesses, both seeing a successful integration of
going from about 600-700 employees to 2500 employees and going from a little
under $1 billion in revenue to more than double that. Also understanding and
embracing the Comcast corporate culture and adapting it to the new NBCU culture
and credo and pushing that out to my entertainment and digital networks
portfolio in our unique way, but one that supports that overarching one.

But really,
of all that stuff, taking on Telemundo Media was big. I'm taking on a
long-standing asset that needed to be supercharged for growth and right sized
and aligned with the rest of the company for growth. For me, taking on a
broadcast network with a discrete and distinct set of distribution needs,
affiliate relationships, advertising relationships, local media business, an
international business, all in Spanish has got to be the biggest challenge and
the biggest accomplishment.

Was Telemundo
an asset you asked to have included in your portfolio or was it offered and was
it the kind of offer you couldn't say no to?

It was
offered and eagerly accepted. I debate this all the time with myself. On the
one hand, it was an out of the box idea. On the other hand, you know, I'm
always up for a challenge and I'm always up for something new and I don't tend
to go for more of the same.

How much
more can Telemundo close the gap on Univision? They said they've moved up five
share points so far this year.

I think
that in a two-player race you seek to be No. 1. I think that given how quickly
just by the picking of the proverbial low hanging fruit and moving this far
this fast, we have a significant life as the country continues to embrace
Spanish language broadcasting, as our distribution continues to grow. As the
World Cup gets ready to come to Telemundo in 2016, this is not 10 years off,
this is four years away and we are very motivated to close that gap.

What is
your biggest challenge for 2012?

I think
for 2012 and beyond, it all goes to this key question which is, with the
changing habits of consumers driven by technology, and now sort of super served
by media companies, meaning I can watch what I want, when I want it, where I
want it, it's going to be the challenge of appropriate measurement, appropriate
monetization as we head into the de-facto content everywhere era.

You think
content everywhere is really going to take off?

I do. I
think if you look at something like Telemundo, we recognized its viewers needed
to move and had life aspects that we needed to cater to, so we made Telemundo
the No. 1 Spanish language VOD service in eight
months. And you can't force people to go onto something where, however many
major and minor MVPDs there are, everyone has a different VOD interface, everyone has
a different remote control, and yet throughout those market we put product in
the place that people wanted when they wanted.

In your
early days of Bravo, there was a lot of focus on building buzz. Are you still
interested in that buzz or do you think there's more substance to these
businesses now?

I would
say I was an early provocateur of the notion that buzz was substantive, that
buzz that is not quantifiable or even qualifiable was just noise, and it came
and went. But as its core mission, my businesses seem to be able to be buzzy
because they're engaging with real people. It's not self-created hype. And I
think the empty kind of buzz is called hype. And you can't be successful every
single time you do hype something [that] doesn't take. That's not what buzz is.
Buzz is being very relevant. Something people must talk about. The notion of
water cooler conversation is real and when people are compelled to talk about
it, whether at the literal water cooler of 20 years ago or on their Twitter
feed or at a dinner party, those are legitimate business drivers because it
means relevance. It doesn't mean hype.

You've got
a lot on your plate. What do you want to do next?

I'm up to Passover.
I'm up to the 22 people I'm having over for dinner at 5
o'clock
a week from Friday. That's what I'm going to do next. I've got a lot going on.

March