In Depth

Joe Abruzzese, President, Advertising Sales for Discovery Communications

If a client wants to get involved with Deadliest
Catch, they can probably have four different
platforms with it. So that's the promise of digital.
What we're finding is that kind of thing is only
about half our digital business. The other half is
people who want to buy the Internet for
demographics.

TVabruzzese-15[1].jpgWeek: It was huge news along Madison Avenue when you came to Discovery from CBS. In many ways, it was a watershed moment for cable: The top ad sales executive at CBS, one of the storied broadcast networks, moving to cable. How many years have you been here now?  

Joe Abruzzese: Six years.

TVWeek: So awhile. And clearly you were well established here when David Zaslav joined the company in 2007. Did you know him before he got here?

Abruzzese: I did not. Since David has been here, though, I’ve learned that he’s an incredibly hard charger. Very smart. Knows our business. Gets concepts as quick as I’ve seen anybody get concepts, and can get what you’re saying in a nanosecond. You don’t have to explain it, you don’t have to have a long meeting.

Also, you can get to him very quickly. He’s very accessible. And he has great management skills and very trusting about what people do. We have very little differences, but when we have differences we talk it out. He solicits dialogue, he wants your opinion. We don’t then vote, but he’d definitely find the right solution.

The difference between David and a lot of executives is that David looks at the company and says, “What can this company be when it’s going at full bore?” I think that is something that is really terrific. As opposed to saying, Discovery’s brand is great. TLC’s brand is great, it’s really saying, “Okay, how much greater can they be? What other parts of the company can we make greater?”

Hard to compare him to Mel Karmazin [my boss at CBS]. But I would say this: When I worked for Mel, Mel taught me one thing—try to find the value in everything you sell. Mel’s style points were a little low, but I will tell you that he brought out the best in people because he said, “Find the value in what you have to sell.” Whether it’s an older demographic, whatever you have. David’s kind of the same way. Find what values you have in what you sell. Also, find the value in the networks that are there now.

There’s a few things that are self evident. Take Discovery Health. It’s a a pretty good brand, but somewhat limited, so we’re turning it into the Oprah network. That’s really unleashing value.

Take Discovery Kids, which was somewhat limited, and now we're going to partner with Hasbro, which is phenomenal.

Those kind of moves are changing our company. We changed Discovery Times into ID. And we’ve gotten some traction. We started putting “48 Hours” on and it got great response. Now we’ve invested a little bit of money and it’s started to grow leaps and bounds.

But when David got here he said “How do we make this thing really big?” So he hires Henry [Schleiff], an established executive, and we put money behind it.

Now, walk over to Planet Green. Honestly, nobody is really in on the Green space, besides us. So as successful as it is, we have an island there. This is all within the last couple of years. Think about taking all the networks that had been limited. Limited value. Now it’s great value. Along with rebranding Discovery Channel, getting TLC back on it’s feet, not to mention Animal Planet.

Take Animal Planet. At one point we took the tact with Animal Planet saying, it fits the portfolio animalplanetlogo.jpgbecause it fits parents with kids. Which is really wrong. Now it’s Animal Planet, be what it can be. And Marjorie [Kaplan], who runs it, is doing a wonderful job letting it be what it can be in its own space, and it really doesn’t have a competitor.

So we have all these cylinders running. So David has pushed everybody to get the value in what they have. And I think there’s a lot more. For example, we don’t really interact very much with international but there’s great exposure in international. We have a few deals with clients. It’s not revolutionary but it could be. We’re wide open for working together.

TVWeek: Where else do you see value potential?

Abruzzese: Probably Science. Science, right now is a great network. But we’re looking at that next to say, "Is that the next big Discovery Channel?" And where does it fit? And does Science feed into Discovery? So science programming now sometimes hits off, goes into Discovery. So we have this feeder team.

HD is a great network. Now everybody is into HD so it’s going to find its own value. And it will. So David, instead of saying, “Oh, we’re doing great,” says, “What more can we do with everything we own? And that’s the biggest difference that we have now with his being here.

TVWeek: You’ve spoken about the changes at the networks, and how they are unleashing value, which I realize you hope will also translate into more sales. What about your department. Any changes you’ve made lately?

Abruzzese: Well, our latest incarnation is that we’ve established two new sales teams. And they are the emerging net sales teams. This is literally in the last six months. We have a male sales team, that is emerging networks which have a male skewing audience: Science, Military and HD. And we have a female sales team which is ID, Fit and Planet Green.

So we’re really trying to sell value as opposed to leverage. Again, trying to sell the value proposition as apposed to the leverage proposition. We don’t just sell ratings because HD is not rated. Planet Green’s not rated. So it’s really the concepts of these networks.

TVWeek: Does that make it that much more difficult?

Abruzzese: Yes and no. It’s difficult yet it’s easier. It’s difficult because you’ve got to convince clients when I can’t tell them exactly what they’re getting, but here’s the environment. And it’s a targeted environment.

But if you do just meat and potatoes, calculate CPMs and so forth, it’s harder. But it’s interesting. And where we are going to be in a year from now, I have no idea. But it’s going to be better. It’s going to be bigger.

TVWeek: And as you’ve transitioned now and continue to do so with some of these networks, are you getting new advertisers to come aboard? Because Discovery as a company has been around for a while—and in that sense its very well known on Madison Ave.

Abruzzese: We have new advertisers. We just wrapped a deal up with Coleman stoves. Big deal with Coleman. I think one of the first times they’ve been on. And they’re big with Discovery. So we get a lot of new advertisers coming in now. We’ve done a good job with that.

But it’s about bigger shares for advertising. If you look at all the metrics now, we’ve worked really hard and we’ve added value and we’ve outpaced other networks in sales these last three or four months. About three or four quarters. If you look at what’s happened with the broadcast networks, you can see what’s happening. They’re still into selling their old platforms which are coming down. We’re building it up, and we’re still getting the money. It’s still coming over. And those are the reasons.

We’re also a little more strategic. One of the ways we’ve done it, not to get too far in the weeds, is we have an essential negotiation team who controls pricing, planning, proposals. And you can’t write a deal without going through this team. The team controls everything including DR [Direcrt Response], paid programming, ADU [Audience Deficiency Units] and so forth. So we evaluate the deals coming through. Is it better to sell it for cash, give it as an ADU, distribute it for DR for getting a better price? So that really makes it more strategic and we constantly are looking at all our options for the time we sell. What does the next month look like? The next quarter look like? And it’s not just selling time. It’s being more strategic about selling time.

TVWeek: Please tell us how the Internet has factored into this, and how do you think it’ll factor into ad sales moving forward.

Abruzzese: To be totally honest, I think for everyone the expectations were a lot higher than the reality has been. The way I see it, if clients want extensions of what they’re doing, the Internet is a great place to get the extensions. The Internet, mobile, VOD[Video on Demand], you name it.
And if a client wants to get involved with “Deadliest Catch,” they can probably have four different platforms with it. So that’s the promise of digital. What we’re finding is that kind of thing is only about half our digital business. The other half is people want to buy the Internet for demographics. So, you’ve got kind of a horizontal integration with networks, clients and shows, or vertical integration with demographics across our networks.

So we’re still trying to figure it out, and we’re actually thinking about restructuring our digital sales team to find the best way to do this, and it would probably be in that form: A vertical and horizontal integration. To find which would make the most money.

And as a company, we’ve invested a lot of money in digital. We’ll see if it pays off. If it doesn’t pay off in actual cash, it may be paying off in effectiveness in advertising. And that’s the hope.

TVWeek: I think you’ve given us a great snapshot of the ad sales picture here. Anything you want to add?

Abruzzese: We’ve covered so much! Getting back to David for a minute, I think David is a good guy who cares much about everyone’s success personally as it is. And he really wants everybody to work together. There are really no silos here.#

To read our introduction to this special report, "Cable TV Programmer of the Decade," click here.

To read our interview with Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav, click here.

To read our interview with Bruce Campbell, President, Digital Media and Corporate Development for Discovery, click here.

To read our interview with Bill Goodwyn, Discovery's President, Domestic Distribution and Enterprises, click here.

To read our interview with Henry Schleiff, President and General Manager, Investigation Discovery, Military Channel and HD Theater, click here.

To read our interview with Marjorie Kaplan, President and General Manager, Animal Planet Media Enterprises, click here.

To read our interview with Laura Michalchyshyn, President and General Manager, Planet Green, Discovery Health and FitTV, click here.

To read our interview with Eileen O'Neill, President and General Manager, TLC, click here

To read our interview with Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of the Discovery Channel, click here

To read our interview with Carole Tomko, President and General Manager of Discovery Studios, click here.

To read our interview with Mark Hollinger, President and CEO, Discovery Networks International, click here.