The continuing wave of mergers sweeping the media business has left in place only a handful of large-scale sellers of national television advertising. Starting with Comcast-NBCUniversal, here’s a look at who is leading the largest ad revenue producers and how they’ve fared in upfront and scatter markets using data from Standard Media Index.
COMCAST-NBCUNIVERSAL: NBCUniversal, under ad sales chairman Linda Yaccarino, has been using its leadership position to try to make the TV advertising business smarter, and create a better viewing experience for viewers. NBCU joined OpenAP, which is standardizing and selling audiences; created CFlight to measure all viewing; devised Prime Pods to cut commercial clutter; and launched ShoppableTV so advertisers could sell directly to people watching NBCU programming. All of that, and NBCU’s scale, makes it formidable in the upfront.
DISNEY TV: The acquisition of 21st Century Fox, and its FX and National Geographic channels, closed in March, giving Rita Ferro, president of ad sales, even more to incorporate into an organization that started to absorb ESPN’s sales operations late last year. The added scale should let Disney offer more opportunities for ad clients to reach target audiences. Disney also is gearing up the Luminate data offering it launched last year.
CBS: Les Moonves, crediting with keeping the network at the top of the ratings, is gone. But CBS will continue to push its stability when it talks to clients and media buyers. David Nevins of Showtime is the new chief creative officer, but most of the network’s development and scheduling execs remain in place. And at a time when other media companies are in flux because of mergers and acquisitions, CBS’s ad sales team remains in place, led by Jo Ann Ross.
FOX: While most of its competitors are working to get bigger, Fox has pared down to a broadcast network, Fox News and Fox Sports. By adding WWE SmackDown on Friday night to go with NFL Thursday Night Football and college football on Saturday nights, Fox ad-sales chief Marianne Gambelli will be offering a lot of big ticket sports in the upfront along with fewer hours of entertainment programs. And in this market, sports and scarcity often translate into higher commercial prices.
DISCOVERY: With last year’s acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, Discovery grabbed a big share of women TV viewers. Despite having network-level ratings, CEO David Zaslav continues to complain that Discovery doesn’t get network-sized prices for its ads. Ad sales head Jon Steinlauf last year rolled out Discovery Premiere, a package of Discovery’s top-rated shows that competes with broadcast prime. Steinlauf is also pushing the Go apps that provide fans of networks like ID and TLC with tons of programming, and advertisers with young, addressable viewers.
WARNERMEDIA: When Turner was Turner, ad sales president Donna Speciale was an advocate for buying audiences rather than buying demographics. Turner was a cofounder of OpenAP, designed to standardize audience targets. But now, as part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia, OpenAP is out and Xandr, AT&T’s advanced analytics and advertising unit, is in. Working with Xandr — which has access to AT&T’s data — could be a plus for WarnerMedia, but the proof is in the pudding.
VIACOM: Viacom, once a must-buy because its hip networks drew young viewers, is now chasing those cord-never millennials and Gen-Z members into the digital space. It acquired ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV earlier this year. Pluto now has channels based on programming from MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, giving Viacom head of client solutions Sean Moran zillions of digital impressions it can use to feed its audience targeting machine, Vantage.
A+E NETWORKS: A+E will sell you ads and guarantee that they work. It’s a direction A+E’s executive VP for ad sales Peter Olsen has been moving toward for the past couple of years. In last year’s upfront, A+E said it made five deals based on performance. The wave of mergers in the TV business has left A+E — with A&E, History and Lifetime leading the way — as one of the few midsized portfolios left for advertisers.
AMC NETWORKS: AMC is not just The Walking Dead. But a third Walking Dead series couldn’t hurt. AMC is boosting its holiday programming. Then once the Super Bowl is over, AMC ad-sales chief Scott Collins will have original TWD programming running straight through to Thanksgiving. AMC has other hot shows as well, such as BBC America’s Killing Eve, AMC’s A Discovery of Witches and a new Saturday BBCA nature block. It is also working with analytics company Data Plus Math to provide information on campaign effectiveness.
CROWN MEDIA: Not even the allegedly scandalous behavior of Hallmark Channel favorite Lori Loughlin could tarnish the squeaky-clean image that Crown Media has built for its networks. Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries are still growing and dominate during holiday periods, resulting in double-digit-plus gains in ad revenue under executive VP for ad sales Ed Georger.