Lost amid the dozens of executives who played musical chairs Wednesday over at NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) was a subtle but significant shift that could cause problems for Comcast.
That Michael Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBCU, lost his job was not entirely unexpected. But the fact that Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) chose to split his responsibilities among two other executives rather than replace him is a decision that could lead to internal conflict and competition.
Since moving over from parent company GE in 2006, Pilot oversaw a centralized sales force that saw day-to-day coordination among far-flung assets ranging from NBC to Bravo to iVillage. The strategy wasn’t just about synergy; it also kept NBCU’s many assets from getting overly competitive for ad dollars that would ultimately end up in different pockets of the same pair of pants (formerly worn by CEO Jeff Zucker).
But sources say NBCU cable chiefs Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick, who both ended up expanding their portfolios in the reorg, petitioned COO Steve Burke to control their own ad sales. And that strategy isn’t without merit to Burke: With brand-specific sales responsibility comes more direct accountability for performance.
And so rather than have one main ad-sales chief preside over the entire programming stable at Comcast, Burke chose to break off broadcast separately from cable and digital sales. Marianne Gambelli will oversee sales for NBC, while Dave Cassaro does same for cable and digital.
And therein lies the rub: Without centralized coordination, Gambelli and Cassaro are essentially being pitted against each other–particularly between USA and NBC. Though the former is cable and the latter is broadcast, they essentially fight in the same weight class given the ratings and distribution of USA puts it on par with the Peacock.
That said, the new NBCU won’t be entirely devoid of cross-platform sales efforts. Zalaznick has “integrated media” under her job description, but that only translates to special projects like the Green Is Universal campaign. Ed Swindler may also prove crucial as COO of ad sales because he will be “heavily involved in companywide sales efforts,” as today’s press release emphasizes, but it’s questionable how involved he can be without being able to put the pieces together from on high like Pilot did.
As for Hammer and Zalaznick, their newly expanded portfolios are actually so differently positioned that they may be able to coexist just fine; Hammer has broad-based properties like USA, Sci-Fi and E, while Zalaznick has more female-skewing, niche-driven brands like Bravo, Oxygen, Style and iVillage.
Welcome to the new ad sales strategy at Comcast’s NBCU: Every brand for itself.