Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher, is close to naming former TV executive Rich Battista to lead the company's largest brand, People magazine, as well as its sibling publication Entertainment Weekly, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The position -- president of People and Entertainment Weekly -- is new to Time Inc. and critical to the company's future. People represents nearly 20% of Time Inc.'s revenue, according to the company's SEC filings. But print advertising -- where the magazine gets most of its revenue -- has declined as marketers shift budgets toward digital from print.
Mr. Battista spent nearly 20 years with Fox and its then-parent company News Corp., climbing to president of National Cable Networks, which included national sports and entertainment channels like Fox Soccer Channel, FX and National Geographic Channel. He left News Corp. in 2010 and most recently served as CEO of Mandalay Sports Media.
People Publisher Karen Kovacs and People and Entertainment Weekly Editorial Director Jess Cagle will now report to Mr. Battista.
A Time Inc. spokesman did not immediately return an email from Ad Age. Mr. Battista did not return a LinkedIn message Thursday evening. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday night that Mr. Battista had struck a verbal agreement with Time Inc.
The search for a president, which was announced publicly late last year, had gone on for months as Time Inc. contacted a number of potential candidates in magazine and digital publishing without finding a fit, people familiar with the matter said. Along the way, Time Inc. reshuffled its executive ranks, which led to the exit of exec VP Todd Larsen, who had overseen People as well as Time Inc.'s other weekly magazines: Time, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly. Recently, the names of former TV executives had surfaced as potential candidates.
As president of People -- a role that reports to Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp -- Mr. Battista will oversee the brand's planned transition to a media operation that publishes articles and videos across a variety of platforms. People, for instance, is among 11 media organizations chosen by mobile messaging app Snapchat to publish directly in the app and sell ads against the content.
The magazine has also introduced new digital video products, including a daily half-hour streaming show called "People Now." And it hosted its first awards show on traditional TV last year. Although Time Inc. has not said People magazine could one day grow into a TV network, executives at the magazine have publicly and privately hinted at the notion.
Time Inc. itself is a company smack in the middle of transition. With revenue from print advertising and circulation in decline -- a secular trend affecting the entire magazine industry -- Time Inc. is trying to bolster its revenue from digital ads and subscriptions, as well as to find new ways to make money through events, merchandising and even real estate development.
Despite the efforts, Time Inc.'s fourth quarter revenue declined 7% from the quarter a year earlier to $895 million. Ad sales fell 8% as a 2% digital ad increase was overwhelmed by print losses.