Cable Networks Trying Different Approaches To Sell Multiple Channels

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NEW YORK ( -- Buyers can expect to hear a lot more from Discovery Networks as its sales staff has restructured to create sales teams built around individual networks rather than Discovery’s entire 13-channel portfolio.

“We’ll have four people calling on the same buyer instead of one and those four people will know more about each network,” said Joe Abruzzese, president-U.S. advertising sales. The four sales teams will be organized around the group’s four top networks: flagship Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Travel Channel.

Restructuring trend
Restructuring is shaping up into a trend in cable network sales. A few months ago NBC Universal Cable Entertainment Sales split into two separate teams, one for Bravo and one for USA and SciFi, with both reporting to Mark Miller, senior VP-cable entertainment sales.

ESPN, on the other hand, last January reorganized its sales and marketing team to form a single entity to manage sales across its media assets from TV to the Internet, radio, print, wireless, broadband, video games and other businesses.

Discovery’s situation differs from ESPN, Mr. Abruzzese said, because each of Discovery Networks’ channels are actually quite different in terms of their target demographics and the types of advertisers they attract. Since coming to Discovery from heading sales for CBS three years ago, he said he began to realize buyers and advertisers weren’t getting enough information about every network.

Mixed results
While Mr. Abruzzese said the reorganization isn’t in response to the disparity in ratings among the networks, the portfolio is sprinkled with bright and dark spots. TLC, for example, is still trying to rebuild itself after losing a third of its audience in the post-“Trading Spaces” era. Year to date, TLC’s 2005 18-to-49 ratings are down 9% from 2004, Discovery Channel’s 18-to-49 ratings are down 14% and Animal Planet’s are down 6%. Digital cabler Discovery Health, however, is up almost 30%.

“Clients wanted more knowledge of every single network and we knew a little about all sixteen,” Mr. Abruzzese said. “I think these networks are strong enough to be on their own and we have to find the right value for those.”

John Barry will head sales for TLC and Discovery Home Channel; Scott Felenstein will man Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and The Military Channel; Lisa Fischer will assume leadership for Animal Planet, Discovery Health Channel, FitTV and Discovery Kids; Harold Morgenstern will handle Travel Channel, BBC America, Discovery Times Channel (a joint venture between The New York Times and Discovery Networks), and Discovery HD.

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