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When betsy frank left her post as senior VP-manager of strategic media resources at Zenith Media Services, New York, her protegee, Audrey Steele, was tapped to fill her shoes.

While it might seem daunting to replace someone as well known as Ms. Frank -- who became exec VP-research and development TV at MTV Networks -- Ms. Steele, 35, says: "One of the nice things Betsy did was guide me along before she left, telling me who would be helpful and such. She was kind enough to pave the way for me, so when I finally took the job, people said, `well, if Betsy says she's smart, and if Betsy trained her, we'll be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.' "


Indeed, Ms. Frank could not be happier about the person chosen to take her place.

"I always said a key reason I was so successful over there is because I had Audrey," Ms. Franks says.

The two began working together 10 years ago, when Ms. Steele joined Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. Together they went to Zenith once it was formed by Saatchi and Bates USA.

"It's great to do the highly visible things like I did," Ms. Frank adds, "but you can only do it if you're confident in the person you're working with, and I had that confidence in Audrey. We developed a great working relationship and I respect her enormously."

Ms. Frank became famous for her fall TV season predictions and Ms. Steel says forecasting the new season is a fun part of her job, too.

As for this fall, Ms. Steele says, "While I don't see any [new] `ERs,' `Seinfelds,' even `Frasiers' on the fall schedules, there are some shows that will improve the fortunes of their networks. It's a quieter season in terms of splashy new concepts, but each network, except perhaps UPN, seems to be learning the lessons of the past and moving in the right direction in terms of rebuilding their audiences."

Though she likes prognosticating best, Ms. Steele says, "What really feeds my spirit about this job is the constant need to stay on top of all kinds of issues that I otherwise would not necessarily focus on. So, besides program content and consumer behavior in terms of choosing television shows, I also have to know Federal Communication Commission regulations, technology, the marketplace, pricing structure, the network business, the impact of media mergers and so forth.

"There's so much more that goes into understanding how this business ticks. That's what I love; culling all that information so I can understand it and synthesize it and make it clear for my clients and peers."


Ms. Frank says the ability to communicate is one of Ms. Steele's great strengths.

Ms. Steele is watching where the medium is headed. She says if TV moves toward addressable, customized-to-viewer programming in the future, "it will have major implications on how the networks will program. It will no longer be a time-period competition driven landscape."

"It will be much more [about] designing programs specifically around speaking to consumers. And if that's the future where we will reach our consumer prospects, then we would have to be involved in the shaping of how advertising works in that environment."

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