The industry knows the upfront power players: CBS's Jo Ann Ross, who has led TV's most-watched network through more than a decade of sales negotiations; NBC Universal's Linda Yaccarino, who is responsible for $10 billion in ad dollars across a wide portfolio of broadcast and cable channels; and Donna Speciale, the longtime agency executive who now leads ad sales for all of Turner.
They have been the faces of the TV upfronts, the annual rite when networks look to sell a bulk of their commercial time for the fall season and negotiations can go into the wee hours of the morning.
But upfront talks are no longer relegated to the spring, when elaborate sales presentations kick off the most visible part of the process. Now conversations start as early as January, and striking a deal involves much more than haggling over the cost of 30 seconds.
As marketers demand richer marketing solutions such as deeply woven product placement, original branded content and the ability to target more specific audiences, the negotiating table has expanded to include more than sales leaders and the buyers representing marketers. This year will see some new faces, and some familiar faces in new roles, as data scientists, researchers and marketing experts find their seats.
Here's a look at some of the people who will be particularly important.
VP of video on demand and content distribution, network sales, CBS
Bio Before moving into sales in 2014, Ms. Young worked as VP-business development, overseeing the CBS video-on-demand product and helping to negotiate retransmission deals.
Role in the upfronts Ms. Young will be stewarding the flow and monetization of video on demand and dynamic ad insertion, or the ability to swap commercials in and out during the playback of shows. As the upfronts proceed, buyers will find her at the table with CBS's sales team explaining how VOD fits into network program consumption as a whole and how clients can best take advantage.
What is surprising about the marketplace? "The speed of the acceptance has surprised me. Once we had the capability, it took a while for dynamic ad insertion to catch on. … But we have seen a sheer rocket trajectory over the last few months. It quickly went from 'let's dip our toe in the water' to being an important part of the upfront this year. … With this upfront, we are moving beyond just education, to working with clients on how to use this capability and how CBS tells its full story across all platforms."
What CBS'S Jo Ann Ross says "Dynamic ad insertion is an important piece of CBS's future, and Amy Young is working with our clients to develop new advertising opportunities in the video-on-demand space. As we evaluate C7 [commercial ratings in the seven days after a program airs], dynamic ad insertion and data partnership opportunities leading up to and through this upfront, Amy will play a key role in strategizing how to grow these multiplatform revenue streams for CBS."
Exec VP-client strategy and ad innovation, and co-head, Ignite, Turner
Bio Prior to being promoted to his current role last year, Mr. Strober was senior VP–client insights and innovation for Turner ad sales and part of the team that introduced Turner's data product, TargetingNow, in 2014. Mr. Strober spent the early part of his career at Turner, but left in 2000 to start his own company, Capture, an interactive ad service.
Role in the upfronts Mr. Strober is central to Turner's data-driven strategy. As the co-head of the newly formed Ignite division, Mr. Strober and his team will provide insights about clients and their consumers to Turner's sales heads so they can help brands create more robust marketing solutions.
What is most exciting about this year's upfronts? "CMOs are coming to the table now with data strategies and want us to help execute them. We are beyond the point of education when it comes to data. We had a conversation with a telco company recently; it was so advanced and different than any conversation we have had up until this point with a media partner."
What Turner's Donna Speciale says "Michael's new role was developed in response to a growing need by clients to have stronger ad capabilities and better in-depth conversations about their own goals. His role is crucial as part of Turner Ignite, and the larger sales division, in ensuring we continue to re-imagine TV and advertising and serve as a business resource to our advertising partners."
Exec VP-chief marketing officer, Fox Broadcasting Co.
Bio Ms. Courtin's "day job" is Fox Broadcasting's chief marketing officer, but she was also recently appointed to lead the company's newly developed branded entertainment unit. Before joining Fox last summer, Ms. Courtin served as chief marketing officer at Relativity, and was previously president of Dentsu Aegis Network.
Role in the upfronts Ms. Courtin will work hand-in-hand with the sales team to help advertisers connect more directly to Fox's creators and series to develop more special content and experiences.
What is something surprising about the marketplace? "Well, this is something not surprising to me at all but perhaps surprising to partners who haven't experienced it yet. Our showrunners and creators are so excited to be part of this process now. We've had a few recent experiences where we've brought our creators directly into the conversation with brand partners for brainstorming sessions and brought brands and their agencies directly into the writers' rooms, and the ideas that emerge are pretty awesome. It makes the end result more powerful for fans of those shows, too."
What Fox Networks President-Ad Sales Toby Byrne says "With Angela and the team based at the network, we're able to bring our partners much closer to the creative. With her deep relationships with creators and her role driving our shows' marketing initiatives, we elevate all of our concepts and ideas and enable more seamless alignment with our programs and talent."
Exec VP-data strategy and consumer intelligence, Viacom
Bio Mr. Schireson joined Viacom in 2014 and has been responsible for building the company's advanced ad products, known as Vantage. Mr. Schireson founded a data science and analytics firm in 2003.
Role in the upfronts Mr. Schireson will be part of discussions on how marketers can layer data and advanced advertising capabilities into their upfront strategy and use other currencies that don't rely on Nielsen age and gender guarantees. He will present marketers with new ways to target their consumers and help them rethink who their consumer actually is.
What IS surprising about the marketplace? "I have been surprised this year about the number of marketers taking data out of the experimental budget and mainstreaming it. There is a movement to scale."
What Viacom Head of Marketing and Partner Solutions Jeff Lucas says "Kern and his team have become an important part of the upfront process because data has evolved into a key component of Viacom's ability to offer our clients the most advanced, industry leading, data-driven marketing solutions in the industry. Kern's role is crucial because these advanced ad products are central to Viacom's ability to shift to an alternative-currency environment."
General manager-business operations, the Content Studio, NBC Universal
Bio Mr. Schiller spent the past seven years leading the development of NBCU's digital sales business. He now leads NBCU's newly formed content studio.
Role in the upfronts Mr. Schiller and his team are creating content for brands independent of media buys, meaning that the work may well run on clients' own digital platforms instead of on NBCU properties. He is heading up NBCU's efforts to meet marketers' demand for ways to stand out in a cluttered video environment.
What is something surprising about the marketplace? "How open to new models the industry and our clients are. Everyone in this business is being asked to do things differently, in service to the consumer. All of our roles are changing."
What NBCU's Linda Yaccarino says "In his new role running the Content Studio, Scott's elevating our entire custom content offering for clients. … Scott and his team have an uncanny ability to create opportunities across every platform that resonate with today's consumers."