ABC Sales Chief Mike Shaw Steps Down, Takes on Adviser Role

Q&A: His Views on a 'Video' Upfront and the Need for Better Research

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- It's hard to imagine a TV upfront without Mike Shaw, who has served as president of ABC's ad sales and marketing since September 2000. In the last decade, Mr. Shaw has led the network's industry-leading efforts to make top shows such as "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" available on more platforms with marketer-friendly ad models and accountable research.

Mike Shaw
Mike Shaw
But after the 20-year Walt Disney Co. veteran departs his day-to-day role at the end of the year, the broadcast TV marketplace will have lost one of its biggest advocates. Mr. Shaw will maintain a role as strategic adviser with the Disney/ABC networks to advise them on ongoing sales and marketing initiatives. He will not be participating in the appointment of his replacement, expected to be announced by Disney Networks President Anne Sweeney in the coming weeks.

In an interview, Mr. Shaw told Ad Age he was "going out at exactly the right moment. The market's good, ABC's going well, it's a great time in the marketplace. I feel great about the timing."

If Mr. Shaw sounds naively optimistic in one of the most challenged years for broadcast TV, perhaps it's because the live ratings only tell half the story. Currently, ABC is second only to CBS in total viewers, but ranks third in adults 18 to 49, is tied for second with Fox in adults 25 to 54 and is a distant second in adults 18 to 34, according to TV By The Numbers. Advertisers covet those young-leaning age groups the most.

But ABC's efforts to hold out for more scatter dollars in this year's protracted upfront ad market are already paying off, Mr. Shaw said, as is ABC's recent 33% stake in Hulu. The network's presence gave a big bump to the video site's October traffic numbers.

Ad Age caught up with Mr. Shaw to discuss his decade at the helm of ABC's ad sales, the industry's progress (or lack thereof) in transacting on relevant audience metrics in a DVR universe and why HD is here to stay.

Ad Age: Why was now the right time to leave ABC on a full-time basis?

Mr. Shaw: This is a conversation I've been having with the company for a while. We've got a great marketplace coming up in the near-term with scatter, and the team at ABC couldn't be stronger. I know I've been a voice of our strategy for a long time now, but the vision has been very much shared, and there are a lot of people here who are still shaping that vision. I feel really good about the transition and what will occur next. It's the right time for somebody to take the next step.

Ad Age: You will retain an advisory role with ABC after you depart your day-to-day role. What will your new role entail?

Mr. Shaw: The company and I agreed there were some important initiatives that I've been working on as part of this current job, so there's a number of those they will allow me to continue to see them though. I'm not stepping down from everything at once -- it's really something the company and I worked out to accomplish some of these goals. They've been very proactive and Anne Sweeney's been fantastic throughout this process. What those initiatives are, however, I cannot share at this moment.

Ad Age: It's fair to say that one of those will certainly be audience measurement, as you've been an advocate on things like time-shifted viewing on DVRs and including online streaming and video on-demand as part of an overall video upfront vs. just a TV upfront. How much progress do you think the industry has made towards that?

Mr. Shaw: We've moved the needle, but I don't think you can ever take the pressure off Nielsen to improve what they already do. In addition to coming up with new and innovative measures of what hasn't been measured up until now, we're very much involved in trying to shape TV solutions for vendors and distributors. It's very important the TV industry rally around visions and how to take those visions forward.

The days of us fighting internally are really silly. You've got search, online, different places coming in and vying for TV dollars and it's up to the TV industry to come up with TV solutions. We're trying to be positive about the way in which we approach not only our own advertisers but the MSOs as we go forward. I've been in TV advertising sales for 33 years, so I'm interested in seeing some of those things happen. If somebody wants me to be part of that discussion, I want to be there.

Ad Age: In the past you've indicated that moving to a more granular, second-by-second data currency could create a viable, alternate currency for TV buying. How close is the industry to achieving that, and is that still a goal of yours?

Mr. Shaw: I don't know if you can take the measurement we have right now and get down to a more microscopic guarantee. We have some real questions about the ability to measure 115 million households down to second-by-second levels and make a guarantee on it. Research is the 30,000-foot uber-issue facing everyone. We have to all continue down that path and make sure that research is as accountable as possible. But at this point, I do not believe switching to other guarantees is the right move.

Ad Age: How does that affect your stated goal of seeing the TV upfront become a platform-neutral video upfront?

Mr. Shaw: The upfront could be platform-neutral if the research was platform-neutral. If I could get somebody to accept the VOD research I have, I think you'd find vendors are willing to go in that direction. I don't understand from my position what currency is most desired.

Ad Age: Some shows receive as much as a third of their weekly viewership from DVRs and online streaming. What value does the time-shifted viewer currently have for ABC from a pricing standpoint?

Mr. Shaw: There's a different premium for those viewers, and the CPMs for the ABC.com full-episode player already reflect that value. The question is whether you can grow a big enough business off that right now. I have to say the DVR is still a more valuable source than alternative platforms. The DVR really cuts both ways, the ratings are higher and that's where more viewing occurs, so at this point you want to push viewers back to the TV. In the near-term it's really important people continue to see the advertising. Whether that's the ad being seen live to ensure that or fast-forward disabled, it's however you affect that to occur. That'll be up to the next group to figure out how to drive the direct value from that exchange. But as long as viewers are searching for that content there will be a need to evaluate their value.

Ad Age: You've also been a big proponent on high-definition technology, both for programming and advertisers. What progress has the industry made in embracing HD?

Mr. Shaw: If you look at the number of advertisers who go through the expense of creating their ads in HD, we've seen a market increase where half the ads are in HD these days. I spend all my time as a viewer within the HD universe, so I check out all the HD channels before I go to any analog channel. If the average person is watching 14 channels a month and you're one of the 14, anyone with an HD set is going to make all those 14 channels be HD channels. I think that's concurrent with the viewing, because HD TVs are growing faster than any other device.

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