"A lot of history has been made here in studio 8H," said Bob Wright, chairman-CEO of the new media giant. In a short film that preceded Mr. Wright's remarks, the new Goliath was touted as the "entertainment company of the future" which has "the power of No. 1."
Actually, NBC Universal, with an expected revenue of $15 billion for 2005, will trail Time Warner, which took in $39.5 billion last year in revenues and Viacom, which raked in $26.5 billion.
NBC Universal combines broadcast and cable networks NBC, Telemundo, USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel, Bravo, Trio, CNBC and MSNBC (jointly owned with Microsoft); film studio Universal Pictures; TV production studios Universal Television and NBC Studios; a station group of 29 NBC and Telemundo stations; and interests in five theme parks, including Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando. International assets include video and DVD movie titles, TV programming and feature films in more than 200 countries; and TV channels in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Later, in an interview with Advertising Age, Randy Falco, the newly minted president of NBC Universal in charge of sales, marketing, research, IT and the Hispanic network Telemundo, indicated cross-platform deals are not the end goal of the merger. The company does not intend to expand the mandate of NBC Connect to create a company-wide multiplatform sales unit.
NBC Connect is "trying to find special kinds of solutions for advertisers who haven't really been in the marketplace," Mr. Falco said. "We don't have a separate cross-platform sales group that goes around begging from every day part for their time. We basically go out and sell to the marketplace in one integrated way."
Executives from large media buying agencies expressed optimism that the long-awaited consolidation will make it easier and more efficient for them to buy advertising across the company's many media platforms, and Mr. Falco reaffirmed this at the press conference. "All of our ad sales operations work together in an integrated way as a face to the marketplace."
He later suggested, for example, that Marianne Gambelli, exec VP-network sales, will not only sell prime time on NBC, but also on Bravo, USA Network and The Sci Fi Channel.
Ad sales for broadcast and cable will be consolidated under Keith Turner, formerly president-advertising sales for NBC, now president of NBC Universal Sales and Marketing. Jeff Lucas, president of Universal Television Group Networks, will be responsible for NBC Universal Cable Sales, reporting to Mr. Turner.
The sales team at NBC Universal will go through a restructuring as the company merges sales groups from the two companies, mostly in cable. Mr. Falco conceded that pink slips will go out to eliminate redundancies, but would not be more specific, other than to say that the company will be putting out another announcement spelling out the new sales hierarchy, top to bottom.
However, syndication sales will remain status quo, not reporting to Mr. Turner, but rather reporting to Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group. At the press conference, Mr. Zucker said that Fred Huntsberry, chief financial officer-television distribution, and Barry Wallach, president-domestic distribution syndication and first run sales, "will maintain the ad sales of that entire group."
The new combined company, Mr. Falco said, is willing to experiment with advertisers on creative deals, using branded entertainment and emerging technologies, such as the deal already in place to feed CNBC and MSNBC to Sprint wireless phones.
"This is all about experimenting with your customers as partners in new technologies and new ways to approach the marketplace. We are totally open to those conversations," Mr. Falco said. "Sometimes you can work them out and sometimes you can't, but that doesn't mean you draw a line in the sand and say `I'm not doing this."'
no deal structure
WPP Group's MindShare first approached NBC with the branded-entertainment partnership that was eventually adopted at Walt Disney Co.'s ABC. Several top media executives with knowledge of the negotiations between NBC and MindShare said that the sales side, and Mr. Falco in particular, was dead set against it, while the programming side, led by Mr. Zucker, was for it.
But Mr. Falco denied that was the case: "We just couldn't get a deal structure in place, in terms of the ownership of the programming. It wasn't about the program guys liking or disliking the deal, or the sales people feeling uncomfortable with it. If we could have had it in a place that felt comfortable, everyone would have agreed."
He was quick to emphasize NBC Universal is open to new ways of doing business. "You want to make sure that you efficiently utilize all of your assets," Mr. Falco said, "but when the day comes that you shut your mind and your organization from new ideas coming from the outside, whether from a small producer or an ad agency, you've made a huge tactical error."
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