Riding a Winning Network

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Marianne Gambelli's time at the seemingly always-hot NBC could mean Never Been Cold. "Our demos are so strong -- no one comes near us," says Ms. Gambelli, 42, executive vice president for prime time and sports, who's No. 2 behind NBC President of Ad Sales Keith Turner.

The General Electric Co.-owned network has been No. 1 during virtually her entire 12-year tenure there -- and No. 1 in costs per thousand in adults age 18 to 49. Every year competitors predict its fall, but somehow NBC survives.

Champ again
This year the network will repeat again as champ in that key adult viewer demographic. Still, advertisers don't want NBC to get too big for its britches, so they try to pump up other networks.

"They want to see someone give us a run for their money," Ms. Gambelli says. "It's good for business."

In a tough year for the Peacock network -- that of last year's upfront, which also was difficult for every other TV network -- NBC still led the way. It opened the market and quickly grabbed $1.9 billion, the most of any network, writing business at smaller price decreases than rival networks. "We did absolutely the right thing," Ms. Gambelli says. "We had everything lined up before anyone knew what was happening."

1990s bad days
While last year seemed miserable, times have been worse. "It was in '90 when I got to NBC. You couldn't get arrested. You went into the weekend with half the [available times] still unsold," says Ms. Gambelli, who started at NBC selling sports. (Before coming to the network, she was a veteran of New York-based ad agencies Backer Spielvogel Bates and Grey Advertising.)

But soon after NBC went on a tear. One of her proudest accomplishments was being instrumental in lifting ad sales for the National Basketball Association in the 1990s. "We probably doubled the marketplace," Ms. Gambelli says.

She now says that while the upfront selling season is important, the scatter market has been increasingly crucial, explaining, "You have to look at the whole year."

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