Jon Nesvig, TV-Sales Dean and Fox Vet, to Retire

Longest-Serving Ad-Sales Chief in Industry Today Never Stopped Experimenting

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK ( -- The longest-serving ad-sales chief in TV today, Jon Nesvig, will step down from his perch as president of sales at News Corp.'s Fox by year's end.

Jon Nesvig
Jon Nesvig
Mr. Nesvig has been with Fox since 1989, when the then-fledgling News Corp. network was only broadcasting two nights a week. He said in a statement today that he was ready to "call it a day," and spend more time with family, golf and grandchildren. A Fox spokeswoman said Mr. Nesvig would not offer further comment.

Taciturn but ultimately friendly, Mr. Nesvig may be one of the most powerful people to have ever held a TV ad-sales role. Mr. Nesvig is known to have a longstanding rapport with News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch, who is ever curious about the ad revenue coming into his broadcast network. Fox executives who worked at the network in its early days have described Mr. Nesvig as the adult in the room who kept watch over dozens of the young-but-eager TV execs trying to help the media mogul take on CBS, ABC and NBC. Mr. Nesvig's nod could be an essential element in getting a new program launched.

In its early days, people scoffed at News Corp.'s effort to launch an upstart broadcast network, but no one can deny the power Fox holds in today's TV landscape. By daring to tinker with the broadcast-network model, Fox stole its rivals' momentum. Why program three hours of prime time? And who needs a regular evening newscast or late-night show? Fox's programs today reach the young, adult males advertisers often find elusive. The network's backing of "The Simpsons" helped make animated fare more mainstream on broadcast TV in prime time. And its broadcasts of "American Idol" have helped it dominate the ratings in recent seasons.

Nesvig's experiments
Like Fox's programmers, Mr. Nesvig has demonstrated a willingness to experiment. In recent years, he tested running programs such as "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" with fewer ads -- then charging advertisers a premium to have their commercials run in a less-cluttered environment. He experimented in 2007 with running short, entertaining video vignettes during commercial breaks in an effort to keep viewers from fast-forwarding through the ad block. In 2005, he allowed AOL, then owned by Time Warner, to run a five-second ad at the tail end of an ad break, an effort to get a message in front of ad-skipping DVR users who would stop just moments before the ads dissolved back into programming. That same year he also tested the use of technology from Visible World that would let advertisers alter their commercials digitally so they could run with elements relevant to particular viewers at the time they were seen. At one point, he prepared to unveil technology that would let advertisers insert updated commercials when viewers watched a program days late with a DVR.

Some of these trials fizzled or never panned out, but at a time when more TV viewers are either skipping past ads or watching TV programs in digital venues that boast fewer commercials, you couldn't fault Mr. Nesvig for researching something new.

Mr. Nesvig has continued to hold an integral role in TV advertising. During this year's upfront, Mr. Nesvig could have used Fox's dominant position to cadge higher ad-price increases from marketers, but in doing so, he might have rankled recession-weary clients concerned about their TV ad-spending costs. Mr. Nesvig secured high-single-digit percentage price increases, helping Fox's market move much more quickly than those networks that angled for double-digit price increases. In doing so, Mr. Nesvig probably drove more volume for Fox and stole share from his rivals, according to one media buyer familiar with this year's upfront negotiations.

Mr. Nesvig has also supervised a Super Bowl ad-sales process that has accelerated each time Fox has broadcast the game in recent years. This year, Fox sold more than 90% of its inventory in next year's match-up by mid-September -- a pace largely unheard of in decades past and a signal of advertisers' increased interest in football and other live sports telecasts. In 2007, Fox was nearly sold out of Super Bowl inventory by late October.

Before joining Fox, Mr. Nesvig spent 15 years as a vice president in various sales capacities at NBC. He also worked at ABC Radio Network and Independent Media Services in New York, after beginning his career in the media department at the Benton & Bowles advertising agency.

Fox Networks Group, the News Corp. unit that includes Fox Broadcasting, did not announce a successor to Mr. Nesvig. The company has a number of veteran ad executives, including Jean Rossi, exec VP-sales who has overseen cross-media sales for Fox and other News Corp. properties; Neil Mulcahy, who oversees sports ad sales; Lou LaTorre, president, ad sales, for Fox Cable Networks; and Bruce Lefkowitz,*exec VP for ad sales at Fox Cable Entertainment Networks.

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CORRECTION: Lou LaTorre oversees ad sales for Fox Cable Networks; Bruce Lefkowitz is exec VP for ad sales at Fox Cable Entertainment Networks and reports to Mr. LaTorre. This article originally said Mr. Lefkowitz oversees ad sales for the Fox cable networks.

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