ABC Promotes Geri Wang to Ad Sales Chief

As Replacement for Mike Shaw, Veteran TV Exec Will Face New Challenges Leading the Network's 2010 Upfront

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Walt Disney's ABC has tapped Geri Wang to replace Mike Shaw, the network's longstanding president of sales and marketing who stepped down at the end of 2009, ending several weeks of speculation as to who would fill the role.

Geri Wang
Geri Wang
Ms. Wang, who has been with ABC since 1990, was the network's senior VP-prime-time sales. But the TV veteran is facing a host of new challenges when it comes to handling an old task: selling advertising time.

Ms. Wang will have to wrangle with tensions that may not have been as strong for her predecessors, chief among them: how to keep TV ad revenue coming in at similar or better levels as marketers are being lured by an emerging bounty of digital-media options that accommodate the same kind of video advertising so dominant on the boob tube.

Indeed, there have been signs in the recent past that ABC has become more flexible when it comes to letting advertisers test new methods on-air. Under Ms. Wang's aegis, ABC has allowed marketers including Sprint, Viacom's Paramount movie studio and Nestle USA's Stouffers to try out new ad formats.

Last year, ABC allowed Paramount to have the famous U.S.S. Enterprise from the movie "Star Trek" to fly out of the "O" in the title sequence of "Lost," all part of a promotion for the launch of the recent movie meant to reboot the popular space-drama franchise. This past fall, ABC helped Sprint create promotional vignettes during "Desperate Housewives" that played on the themes and campy drama of the show -- with showrunner Marc Cherry helping to design them. In recent weeks, ABC ran promos for Wednesday-night programs including "Ugly Betty" and "The Middle" featuring characters from those programs eating dinners made by Nestle's Stouffers.

Grabbing attention
These examples are increasingly in demand as marketers try to find new ways to catch the attention of viewers that often skip past commercials with fast-forwarding digital video recorders. By playing upon the themes of programs viewers tuned in to see, networks and marketers hope they can entice couch potatoes to pay attention, rather than wander away from or ignore the ads that help pay for TV shows to stay on the air.

Ms. Wang's first major test will likely come during this year's "upfront" marketplace, when advertisers typically commit a large part of their ad spending toward the TV networks' fall schedules. Last year, marketers held tight to their dollars because of the recession, and overall volume for the market fell. In 2010, networks have been securing significant price increases in the sale of as-needed ad inventory, also known as "scatter." Which means Ms. Wang may have some wind at her back when she enters negotiations as ABC's lead for the first time.

In the past, ABC has had a reputation among ad buyers as being somewhat stiff-necked when it came to allowing this type of branded entertainment on its air. But with the economy and media landscape in flux, TV networks have demonstrated a willingness to accommodate such experimentation.

In exchange for allowing something on-air that could raise eyebrows, networks often try to harness the promotion to hype their own shows as well. "More and more, the critical tipping point for these integration kinds of deals is being able to exploit the content in ways that make sense," Ms, Wang told Ad Age in September. Last May, she indicated ABC would remain "very, very selective" about making such program elements as the "Lost" title sequence available to advertisers.

One could put forth the notion that Ms. Wang has worked 'round the clock for ABC; indeed, she has supervised the sales of ad time for most parts of the network's schedule. She joined ABC in 1990 as an associate director of daytime sales proposals, and she was promoted in 1991 to associate director-prime-time proposals, and to account executive-daytime sales in 1992.

In 1994, she became an account executive-early morning and late-night sales, and in 1996, she was promoted to senior account executive-prime-time sales. She was named VP-prime-time sales in 1998 and senior VP-prime-time sales in 2000. She began her career as a media research analyst at Grey Advertising in New York.

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