Brands, Come on Down

GSN's John Zaccario Has the Platforms -- and Audience -- for Marketers to Play With

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NEW YORK -- Meet the new guy who will help turn your brands into prizes.

John Zaccario was named senior VP-ad sales for GSN, the game-show network in 66 million homes and jointly owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media Corp. Mr. Zaccario comes to the gig from ESPN, where he served for the past three years as VP-digital media sales and marketing. Mr. Zaccario replaces Chris Raleigh, who left at the end of 2007.
John Zaccario
John Zaccario

It was because of his previous experience in online gaming at ESPN that Mr. Zaccario saw an interesting challenge at GSN. "One of the things that made sense to me at ESPN was we connected with men who wanted to watch games on TV and play fantasy versions online," he said. "On GSN, we're reaching women who watch game shows and want to play casual games online. That combination of the internet and TV is working together to help marketers achieve their objectives is something that works."

David Goldhill, president-CEO, GSN, saw that potential in Mr. Zaccario, too, when he selected him to lead ad sales and brand integrations across all GSN's TV, web, broadband and wireless applications. "John's experience and understanding of both traditional television and digital platform advertising sales will be critical to GSN's success as we focus on creating cross-platform opportunities for our sponsors and partners," Mr. Goldhill said.

To that end, Mr. Zaccario will also help expand its presence as a destination portal for casual gaming. The site ranks 43rd among Comscore's online gaming category, with 521,000 unique visits in December. Mr. Zaccario said his plan for the next few months was to create a strategy on how to expand that presence. "It's a point of differentiation for us. We just need the right building blocks to bring a gaming audience to marketers."

Just a few weeks into his new post, Mr. Zaccario spoke with Madison & Vine about his other plans for the network and how branded entertainment can play an even larger role in gaming beyond the TV screen.

Madison & Vine: Given your background in online gaming at ESPN, what are some of the parallels you saw in your new role at GSN?

John Zaccario: Certainly at ESPN, and in the case of fantasy, we had a large, scaleable audience. The casual-game space for women is equal to or larger than the fantasy marketplace is to men. Marketers like the creativity, sponsorship and integration the gaming experience affords them.

M&V: And what do you see as the potential for brands playing in these platforms?

Mr. Zaccario: I think branded entertainment, product integration and live programming and certainly mobile work great for gaming. It's probably the second most popular use of mobile next to voice. So it makes lot of sense for us to be on that platform, given the interactivity and simultaneous consumption. We're offering our consumers the opportunity to have interactive experience.

M&V: Given that you're switching demos from men at ESPN to women at GSN, how has your client base changed? Is it still some of the same players who are looking to get their brands involved in gaming?

Mr. Zaccario: Some of the parent companies will be the same, like the consumer packaged goods clients who have brands that look to target men and some brands for women. In automotive, some will be the same but the brands will be different. And certainly there will be some advertisers who GSN has that ESPN just didn't have. It's a combination of things.

M&V: With the writers strike showing no signs of letting up anytime soon, what's the plan for GSN to capitalize on its reality-based, writer-free gaming content?

Mr. Zaccario: Immediately, I think it's a great opportunity for people in the game-show business like us. We'll see how long the writers strike goes and if it continues to impact the prime-time schedule. If there's money in play, game shows are a good place to put that money in play. We'll be pretty aggressive about getting that message out there.

M&V: Indeed, game shows have been hot across the board nowadays both on cable and on broadcast, where "Deal or No Deal," "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and even "Power of 10" have become breakout hits. Any other goals you're setting here for your position or the network in the newly game-show-crazed culture?

Mr. Zaccario: I'm just excited about the opportunity to come in and create a first-class multimedia sales organization. My aim is to market the audience of game show fans and casual game players at a high premium based on research both qualitative and quantitative and use it to help customers navigate that space. If we become an expert on that audience, we can have a consultative, marketplace-leading role.