Gaspin a Go-To No. 2 at NBCU

Mar 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Although he has responsibility for some of NBC Universal’s most profitable units, some people wonder just what Jeff Gaspin—the company’s other Jeff—does.
Earlier this month, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker handed Mr. Gaspin interim responsibility for the women’s Web business iVillage. As president and chief operating officer of the Universal Television Group, Mr. Gaspin already oversees a broad portfolio of assets including the company’s cable networks and its Spanish-language business, including Telemundo.
“When you have multiple divisions, my job is to set priorities. And those priorities help determine how much time and attention different assets receive,” Mr. Gaspin said, providing an example.
When he added oversight for Telemundo, he said, executives there told him that its cable network mun2 was No. 1 in the bilingual marketplace but suffering from limited distribution.
Mr. Gaspin talked to Bridget Baker, president of NBC Universal TV Networks Distribution, another area he oversees, and her team.
“They told me of this two-year history of trying to get more distribution for mun2, but that there were many other priorities set by prior management,” he said. “It was not on the top of the list.”
He decided Ms. Baker didn’t have to put it at the top of her list, “but I want it to be top-five, and two months later she closed a deal and we got at least 7 million more subs for mun2.”
Under Mr. Zucker, NBC Universal’s broadcast network lost its dominant status while its cable networks have become the driver of the company’s revenues and profits. Mr Zucker has been outspoken about plunging into digital and is revamping the way it develops programming and conducts its upfront ad sales presentations.
As Mr. Zucker’s soft-spoken key lieutenant in the cable and digital areas, Mr. Gaspin’s job has changed quite a bit since 2001, when he was in charge of alternative programming for NBC.
“I used to take pitches for reality shows five years ago, and now I take pitches for cable networks,” he said.
Mr. Gaspin led NBC Universal’s successful bid for Oxygen, purchased for what was seen by analysts as a bargain price of $925 million, and now is looking over a possible acquisition of the Weather Channel and its Web site Weather.com, which is being shopped by Landmark Communications.
Mr. Gaspin put Oxygen under Lauren Zalaznick, who also runs NBC Universal’s Bravo Media. He’s looking at creating a virtual network for advertisers seeking to reach women by integrating sales of Oxygen, Bravo, iVillage and the later hours of the “Today” show.
“I think iVillage needs to be better integrated into the other assets of NBC Universal,” Mr. Gaspin said, adding, “I think there is great opportunity with Bravo and Oxygen with this idea of a virtual women’s network that we’ve been talking about.”
He sees iVillage as a mixed bag. “They’ve grown traffic for the last 14 months, which is great. They’ve improved the site tremendously,” he said. But “technologically, they haven’t moved the ball forward enough. So there’s still more to do.”
Ultimately, it might get incorporated into Ms. Zalaznick’s realm.
“I want to spend some time accessing iVillage, but then at some point it would likely become part of another group. I’m not actually sure of the final structure yet,” he said.
‘Marked Improvement’
Mr. Gaspin said he is excited about what Ms. Zalaznick and general manager Jason Klarman are doing at Oxygen.
He’s seen a preview of the network’s new positioning, and dubs it a “marked improvement from what it has been.”
Oxygen is likely to be marketed as a women’s network, but will be distinct from Bravo, which also has a female appeal. “You’re going to segment and super-serve female targets within that grouping,” Mr. Gaspin said. “Bravo will serve certain targets in the women’s space, in the men’s space, and in the gay space, frankly. Oxygen will serve different segments within the women’s space.”
Yahoo recently said it had plans to serve the women’s market, while in cable, Discovery Communications is looking to make a splash next year with the Oprah Winfrey Network, making the arena more competitive.
“I think it just proves there’s real value in concentrating on this target,” Mr. Gaspin said. And he’s confident his units will prosper.
“The strength of all our cable networks is how well they know their audience,” he said. “And I know we have the best teams of people. Head to head, I believe we come out winners.”
Mr. Gaspin also had praise for Bonnie Hammer, who helms NBC Universal’s biggest cable networks, USA and Sci Fi. But while Ms. Zalaznick has added responsibility, some NBC insiders are wondering what job Ms. Hammer eventually will have left and whether she will stay with NBC Universal or go elsewhere.
“Talented people tend to be ambitious people. Part of my job and Jeff Zucker’s job is to manage ambition, to manage talent and try to reward people the best we can and to try to give them challenges, whether it’s part of their job title or not,” Mr. Gaspin said. Ms. Hammer is “an asset that’s probably as valuable as gold is right now, and we recognize that, and Bonnie will be in very good shape with this company.”
Mr. Gaspin also oversees digital content. While he considers NBC Universal to have been a leader with its NBC 360 program of creating digital extensions for TV programming, he concedes there are questions about how content will be distributed in the future.
“Will it go directly to the television set, will it go through the computer to the television set, will it go through the set-top box? Will it be slung around by technology that allows for that to happen? Will it be clipped, will it be pirated? All of that is still in motion,” he said. “We all know how it can be distributed and we’re all excited about the potential distribution. There’s more distribution applications now than ever before, and we can get our content to people whenever they want it wherever they want it. But what are the business models that support that? That’s probably what keeps most of us up at night.”

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)