Here are six men with inventory to sell and budgets to meet. They are the heads of sales at ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and The WB, the men who preside over the entrance to the broadcast warehouse. Like a bouncer outside a trendy New York bistro, each of these fellows has often been able to call the shots on who gets in, who doesn't and at what price.
This year, bouncer turns barker. For the first time since the early 1990s, the supply of ad inventory may outstrip demand, placing additional pressure on network sales chiefs to meet or exceed last year's record $8.2 billion take.
Who are these six guys, and what makes them tick? BROADCASTING & CABLE spoke with each of them about the economy, their outlook for the upfront season and how changing times affect their jobs and their lives.
ABC: An optimistic approach
President, Sales and Marketing, ABC Television Network
The Shaw File
Birth date: Sept. 1, 1954
Education: Degree in finance and management, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.
First sales job: TV rep for John Blair & Co.
Favorite pastimes: Skiing, body surfing, rolling down the highway on his BMW 1100 motorcycle
Family: Wife (Karin) and two children (Connor, 18, and Taylor, 15). Home is Westport, Conn.
Mike Shaw, ABC Television Network president of sales and marketing, has seen the best of times and worst of times. Just one year into his new position, Shaw has basked in the glow of the network's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? franchise and has experienced the frustration of an abrupt advertising downturn that started with little warning last fall.
"If you go way back to September 2000, there would be very few people who could have predicted this," says Shaw.
Shaw oversees a new unit known internally as ABC Unlimited. Formed last fall, the division combined the sales and marketing efforts of both the ABC Television Network and ABC Inc. and is responsible for everything from selling commercials on ABC-TV to the network's huge Jumbotron sign in New York's Times Square.
Pharmaceutical ads remain strong for the network, while autos and retail, both major contributors to ABC's record $2.5 billion upfront last year, are hit-and-miss.
"It's funny." notes Shaw. "Some companies are doing well, but in each category you've got a couple of guys who are having a tough go of it and are looking to cut."
Still, he remains optimistic. "We've got a great development season working, and we'll put on a killer schedule this fall. That should help us greatly," he says.
Shaw's best advice to colleagues and competitors alike on how to weather the advertising dip? "Keep your rates up. I've never seen anybody make money by discounting their product."
CBS: A youthful revival
President, Network Sales, CBS Television Network
The Abruzzese File
Birth date: Sept. 10, 1947
Education: Degree in finance and marketing, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey
First sales job: Selling sports programming for NBC in the late 1970s
Favorite pastimes: Running, aerobics, weight lifting, golf, squash.
Family: Wife (Sherri) and three children, Melissa (17), Robert (14) and Alison (13). Home is Darien, Conn.
For Joe Abruzzese, CBS Television Network president of network sales, what goes around, comes around. "The big difference between now and when I started here in 1990 is that we had a very mediocre upfront and a scatter market that sold for 50 cents on the dollar," he recalls. "That really led some people to wonder whether the upfront was valuable anymore."
Acknowledging that times are tough, Abruzzese predicts a rapid revival.
"The situation is not nearly as bad as the press makes it out to be," he adds. "This is the worst we're going to see of it, and things are going to get better fairly quickly." CBS raised about $1.6 billion in upfront sales last year.
Shackled for years with older demographics, CBS has enjoyed a revival among younger audiences, thanks in part to the success of shows such as Survivor, Everybody Loves Raymond and Judging Amy.
"For the first time now, my kids are watching CBS, " Abruzzese says, referring to his three teenagers. "It wasn't always that way, and it makes me feel very good. We've been through our ups and downs, but we're looking up."
Fox: Leaping ahead
President, Sales, Fox Television Network
The Nesvig File
Birth date: Nov, 23, 1943
Education: Degree in economics, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.
First sales job: Selling network radio for ABC. "I love radio. It was great fun."
Favorite pastimes: Golf. "I used to be solidly better than my compatriots before [NBC sales chief Keith] Turner moved in."
Family: Wife (Hanneke) and three children (Tim, 26, Mieke, 24, and Carrie, 20). Home is Riverside, Conn.
With all the rejection, being in sales definitely requires a sense of humor.
"Is this an obituary?" Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox Television Network, asks. Named to the position in 1994, Nesvig may be in the best position among his colleagues to shepherd his network through an uncertain ad market. Riding the strength of new shows such as Boston Public, Dark Angel and Grounded for Life, Fox recently leaped to the head of the line among teens and the important 18-34 demographic.
"We have to be strong and have courage," Nesvig says of the current advertising environment. "In the 30 years that I have been doing this, the longest that we've had a recession is in the 15-month range. By that measure, we must be at least half way through this one."
Nesvig says he sometimes uses his family as a sounding board. His three children all fall within Fox's target 18-49 demo and seem to like what the network is doing.
"My college-aged daughter told me that everybody at school was having Temptation Island parties, and my 24-year old is into That 70s Show, he says.
"The buyers control the dollars, always have," he says. "But no matter whose market it is, we think that we offer a lot of value in terms of reach and large, unique audiences. As long as those are important to the advertisers, we will reap the benefit."
NBC: Maintaining focus
President, Sales and Marketing, NBC Television
The Turner File
Birth date: February 1954
Education: Degree in business management, C.W. Post College, Long Island University, Brookville, N.Y.
First sales job: Account executive for CBS-TV sports, 1982
Favorite pastimes: Golf, basketball. "I'm a frustrated ex-jock."
Family: Wife (Cathi) and three daughters (Kelly, 18, Meghan, 16, and Erin, 12). Home is Huntington, N.Y.
Keith Turner, NBC Television president of sales and marketing, is working hard to make NBC's "Must See TV" a "must buy."
Turner is responsible for sales of prime time, daytime, news, sports and late night for NBC-TV, Pax Network and MSNBC. This year, he assumed oversight of the networks' new sales development and marketing division. After starting his sales career at CBS, Turner joined NBC in 1987 as an account executive for prime time sales.
While he remains upbeat about the upfront, Turner concedes that his crystal ball remains a little fuzzy.
"I can't really make any predictions because it's just too early to tell," he says. "I'm certainly not suggesting that things are going to be as healthy as last year, but they're not disastrous by any stretch."
NBC pulled in about $2.3 billion in last year's upfront, just behind market leader ABC-TV.
NBC made its first-quarter sales budget, and Turner says the network will probably hit second quarter numbers, as well. To make sure, Turner tells his sales force to spend as much time as possible with clients and gather as much information as they can from all sources.
"There is no one good indicator of where the market is heading," he says. "You have to keep your eyes on as many things as possible."
UPN: Staying the course
Executive Vice President, Network Sales, UPN
The Mandelker File
Birth date: Dec. 13, 1948
Education: BBA, Pace College, New York
First sales job: Selling lemonade. "I had a stand when I was 6 at 169th and Union Turnpike in New York City."
Favorite pastime: Golf. "Looking for golf balls in the woods is great. Nobody bothers you; there's no phone. The guys who spend all their time on the fairways don't realize all the tranquility they're missing."
Family: Wife (Cheryl) and two daughters, (Melissa, 22, and Lauren, 20). Home is Manhasset, N.Y.
Ad downturn? What ad downturn? Mike Mandelker, executive vice president of network sales at UPN, says his network is in a pretty good position to navigate what could be a stormy upfront market.
"I'm on the cheap end, and I don't have that much business to book to begin with, so we are not at the mercy of the marketplace," says Mandelker.
Limited inventory coupled with a younger viewer base should help UPN keep its head above water, he adds. UPN wrote about $150 million in upfront business last year, a fraction of what its bigger brethren produced, but a 40% increase over the previous year.
"Everybody hopes to have a year like that in sales. I'm only sorry that I wasn't on commission," Mandelker laughs.
Whatever the outcome of this year's upfront, Mandelker sees stronger and better days ahead. "This is just another upfront, and it's not going to be as bad as the buyers hope it will be."
Mandelker was named to head network sales at UPN in 1998 after spending 15 years with NBC.
The WB: Touting demographics
Senior Vice President, The WB
The Morningstar File
Birth date: July 19, 1964
Education: M.B.A., University of Maryland
First sales job: Commercial insurance sales. "I never thought I would get into this business, and I didn't have a passion for selling insurance."
Favorite pastimes: Tennis, some golf. "I go home to my wife and three kids and try to spend as much time as I can with them."
Family: Wife (Sally) and three children (Emily, 7, Ryan, 5, and Big Danny, 7 months).
Bill Morningstar, senior vice president of The WB, might be called the new kid on the block. He was named to the post in last March. He oversees the network's 25-member sales staff in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
Although new to his position, Morningstar counts himself among the veterans at The WB. "Been here since day one, January of 1995," he says. "It's been a wild ride so far."
Lately, the ride has been uphill. The WB has pushed its CPM rate higher at a faster clip than any other TV network. Morningstar says that ratings in the network's target demographic (adults 18-34) have been strong, a major selling point.
"Our median [viewer] age is 29," he explains. "The only other networks that have a median age under 35 are MTV, BET, Comedy Central and VH1. If you are a marketer and you want to reach young adults, your options are fairly limited."
Like UPN, The WB's limited prime time schedule leaves it with less commercial inventory to sell. Last year's upfront generated just over $420 million, but Morningstar will not speculate on this year's take.
"It's just too early to call, way too many moving parts," he says.