Is Media Guru Verklin Headed Over to Canoe?

Ex-Carat Chief Mum on Plans but Drops a Hint: TV 'Ripe for Reinvention'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- David Verklin once gave a speech in which he coined the phrase "the crackle of change" as a way to get at the digital transformation sweeping the ad business. The crackle caught up with the loquacious media thinker last week, when he announced that he's leaving Carat, the platform from which he became one of the industry's most visible figures during the past 10 years.
David Verklin
David Verklin

Mr. Verklin's departure seems to be based on a number of different factors. There has been some tension between Mr. Verklin and Mainardo de Nardis ever since Mr. de Nardis came on as Aegis's worldwide CEO, a new position, in February of last year, according to executives familiar with the situation. Those tensions were stoked, these people say, in part by Mr. Verklin's clear pursuit of other interests such as writing a book and becoming a media-business celebrity in his own right. Another factor: Aegis is essentially under siege from rival holding company Havas, whose largest shareholder, Vincent Bollore, is attempting to merge Aegis with Havas.

Mr. Verklin, 52, didn't say much about the reasons for his departure, nor did he disclose his next destination. Numerous industry executives, however, have said he's on his way to Project Canoe, consortium of cable multisystem operators including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Cablevision that is seeking universal metrics for video on demand. The unit's goal is to make a hyperfragmented market more scalable for advertisers and more universally measurable.

Mr. Verklin would not comment on Project Canoe specifically, but he did say this: "I am convinced that the next three years, an enormous amount of the focus will turn toward the TV set. I am convinced that the TV space is ripe for invention and reinvention."

Next puzzle
It doesn't stretch the imagination to envision Mr. Verklin getting in on VOD and issues of addressability from the ground up, because he sees it as the next big puzzle for the media industry to solve. And he isn't the only one. WPP Group has invested in Invidi Technologies Corp., a company that allows advertisers to deliver specific ads via set-top boxes to individual TVs. And Alec Gerster, longtime CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Worldwide, just became chief marketing officer of Navic Networks, a company that hopes to use technology to make TV watching into a two-way experience among viewers, programmers and advertisers.

Mr. Gerster said he's committed to the space for three reasons. First, although TV viewing has become more fragmented, the numbers for overall viewership haven't gone down. Second, major advertisers are still spending a most of their money there, and third, TV is being distributed on a digital platform.

"People don't talk so much about what's the outcome of all that," Mr. Gerster said. "We buy television and use television in a way that a buyer from 25 years ago would recognize. There is a lot we can do with TV on a digital platform, we only just have to understand how -- and also use it in such a way that our distribution partners see the economic value of making some of these capabilities either more widely available or more easily available."

This space makes sense for Mr. Verklin, who's regarded as one of the industry's brightest lights and best ambassadors. It was Mr. Verklin who built Carat's North American operations, growing the business from $600 million in billings to $5 billion and showing the ad industry that stand-alone media agencies were viable.

Media impact
"A large part of the reason media is a stand-alone and vibrant discipline is because of David's effort," said Renetta McCann, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group. "The Carat model really did prove that communications planning, talented media professionals and very aggressive product development could work."

In addition, Mr. Verklin pushed the media world to accept that digital was going to fundamentally change consumers. He was an evangelist for digital when few others were.

Back when digital was a nascent business, "only one of [the media-agency CEOs] was evangelizing ... with clear recognition that consumer behavior was going through a change," said Rob Norman, CEO of Group M Interaction. "David was a lone voice at that level."
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