Dot-com executives plug back into cable

Feb 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In the TV business, where two occurrences of almost anything counts as a trend, the simultaneous return of three prodigal cable advertising sales executives from the outer reaches of cyberspace seems at the very least to constitute a no-confidence vote in the ad sales future of the Internet.
But Gina Garrubbo, Evan Sternschein and David Kohl, veteran executives, all say it’s more complicated than that.
In 1996, Ms. Garrubbo left her post as VP, Eastern advertising sales, Discovery Networks, to become an executive VP at Women.com. Now she has returned to cable as executive VP, sponsorship sales, for Oxygen Media.
Two years ago, Mr. Sternschein left his post as executive VP of national ad sales for ESPN/ABC Sports, where he had been for 13 years, and went to Iwon.com, which subsequently became the Excite Network. Now he’s back in cable as senior VP, national advertising sales, Discovery Networks.
In January 2000, Mr. Kohl left his post as VP, national advertising sales, at Comedy Central, where he had been employed for 10 years, for a position with what was then called the Universal Music Group, and specifically with Farmclub.com, the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a franchise of multinetwork music shows that would “break” new bands and be linked by a common Web site. In January 2002, he came back to cable, joining the Viacom family as senior VP, regional advertising sales, for VHI and Country Music Television.
“I call it the safe convergent dot-com world,” Mr. Kohl said of his homestead in cyberspace, “because it was the Universal Music Group. … Here was one that had a solid foundation, a solid business plan.”
Like his colleagues, he was enticed by the promise of a “substantial equity position.” Like them, he remains a believer in the Web and thinks his experience will be of benefit to his new cross-platform-minded employers in cable. “I’m still a true believer in convergence online as it relates to music,” he said.
Mr. Sternschein characterized his going to Iwon as the right move-a “very well-financed” dot-com that had raised more than $200 million and was 35 percent owned by CBS. There, he hired 70 people and opened offices around the country. He saw Iwon acquire Excite.com and change its name to Excite Network. It was the “perfect time to build a company from the ground up,” he said. “I did not leave a failed dot-com business. In fact, I left what I think will be one of the dot-com successes.”
Excite is now a “private company that made it through a war, a recession, the worst ad marketplace in history and a dot-com meltdown beyond belief. Not only have they made it through but they’ve started 2002 as a newly named company and are twice the size of when they started,” Mr. Sternschein said. He, too, remains a believer in integrated deals and says his experience in cyberspace has many applications for cable.
Ms. Garrubbo said she “just wanted to do maybe a two-year tour of duty in the Internet space” after working in broadcast, cable, syndication and on the buy side. It was an “opportunity to create marketing platforms that had never existed in the universe before,” she said. Asked why she and her colleagues all returned to cable at the same time, she laughed. “The things fell apart at the same time.”
As for Mr. Kohl, “Why did I come home to cable?” he said. “A huge market pullback. Probably the same reason Gina came back. Probably the same reason Evan came back.”