Yeah, like Scottie Pippen was lucky Michael Jordan was there. Or Roger Maris was lucky Mickey Mantle was there.
In other words, the self-deprecating doubting Thomas is one of the smart guys.
Mr. Thomas, 51, is VP-national sales for AT&T Media Services (formerly Tele-Communications Inc.). With the advent of digital TV, Mr. Thomas is posed to become one of the most important players on Madison Avenue.
STARTED AT WCBS
No stranger to TV, Mr. Thomas started his career in ad sales and marketing in 1977 at WCBS in New York. From there he went to the CBS owned-and-operated station group, and then on to the network itself. Most of the early '90s were spent doing ad sales marketing for Discovery Communications. In 1996, he joined TCI, creating a new position for the cable giant: VP-national sales.
"We had 14 million subscribers at the time," Mr. Thomas recalls. "The idea, worked out with my boss, Jerry Machovina, was that we had the pathway to the future and we had to start building bridges from Madison Avenue to Denver," where TCI was based.
The plan was that Mr. Thomas would be based in New York and start reaching out to marketers and media shops.
At first all he mostly heard was how hard it was to buy local cable. TCI and the other cable operators were listening, and local cable is easier to buy now, and should become easier still.
As Mr. Thomas persisted in his conversations, "more and more of the folks I'd be talking to everyday on the client and agency side started to want to know what John Malone [then TCI's chairman-CEO] was up to, and how digital TV was going to change everything."
Mr. Malone was preaching that new digital set-top boxes, and the accompanying software, will bring on the advent of addressable advertising and interactive advertising in ways that could transform TV.
Mr. Thomas took that message to Madison Avenue
POINTMAN ON KRAFT DEAL
He was TCI's pointman on the landmark deal the cable operator made with Kraft Foods. In that arrangement, Kraft will help develop these new applications when they become viable over the next few years.
Mr. Malone is no longer with the company, but his successor, Leo J. Hindery Jr., is equally bullish about the prospects for addressable and interactive advertising, which helps make Mr. Thomas' job easier.
Here's how Mr. Thomas sees the brave new world: "There will be commercial occurrences on a variety of communications devices. What advertisers are going to have to do is string those commercial occurrences together to get a product