Hopefully readers had a Happy New Year, but there‘s no holiday for many in the industry who have to deal with issues ranging from the cost of streaming to cord-cutting to a weak economy.
Here’s a list of executives at key companies facing big challenges and questions. We’ll be following them to see what solutions they come up with.
Jeff Shell, Comcast
Jeff Shell, as CEO of Comcast’s NBCUniversal business, is in charge of the cable giant’s media assets at a time when the media business is under pressure and perhaps a questionable investment. Other media companies have doubled down on streaming and, while already losing billions of dollars, NBCU’s Peacock remains tiny. Comcast might opt to buy Disney’s majority stake in Hulu rather than sell its own minority stake to Disney. Or Comcast could spin off NBCU, or maybe merge it with Warner Bros. Discovery or Paramount to gain scale. Either way Shell will have an important seat at Comcast scion Brian Roberts’s table.
Chris Licht, CNN
Everyone at Warner Bros. Discovery is on a hot seat fueled by $50 billion in debt. Big things need to be done, including the creation of a new direct-to-consumer streaming service that combines HBO Max and Discovery Plus. But the most pressure is on Chris Licht, who was made head of CNN last year. Licht has already shook up the network’s morning show and primetime schedule and stripped familiar programming from HLN. Hundreds of staffers have lost their jobs and there are no promises that more won’t end up on the chopping block until ratings and revenues pick up.
John Halley, Paramount
John Halley, the head of Paramount ad sales, replaced Jo Ann Ross, the queen of the upfronts. He canceled the company’s iconic Carnegie Hall upfront event in a softening ad market. Paramount owns the most traditional of the traditional broadcasting networks in CBS, while its cable networks — including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — are challenged by cord-cutting (bright spot: Paramount Network with Yellowstone). No doubt the ad business is changing from touch to tech and from broadcast to streaming, but do Halley and Paramount risk trading broadcast bucks for digital dimes?
David Kenny, Nielsen
David Kenny accomplished the sale of Nielsen to a consortium of private equity companies. How interested is he in trying to maintain Nielsen’s hegemony over the media research business? Can he sell Nielsen One to an industry that is hopeful that converged measurement will become available, but skeptical about Nielsen’s ability to deliver and worried about how much it will cost? Or will he join the half dozen other top Nielsen execs taking the packages made available by the buyout?
Charlie Collier, Roku
The tech giants have turned their attention to TV with Google and Amazon using the mighty NFL as a key part of their programming playbooks. What are streaming-device maker Roku and Charlie Collier, who joined Roku from Fox Entertainment last year, going to do for content? Collier is also in charge of advertising, but Roku will have to attract eyeballs to sell ads. Can he make a big swing, like AMC Networks did when he was there, with a run of iconic shows: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead?
Charlie Ergen, Dish Network
Charlie Ergen, chairman of Dish Network, may have run out of broadcasters to black out. Is it finally time to focus on mobile and get out of the TV business by merging Dish Network with DirecTV? In November, he said the window is open. Is he ready to jump through?
Mike Hopkins, Amazon
Amazon made big inroads into the TV business in 2022. A first exclusive season of Thursday Night Football, the megamillion-dollar series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the rebrand of the Freevee AVOD service. There’s still much to be done. Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM needs to be integrated, a task that might be complicated by the departure of hit-maker and Trump creator Mark Burnett.
David Preschlack, Diamond Sports Group
Veteran TV sports exec David Preschlack in December was named CEO at Diamond Sports Group, the increasingly separate division of Sinclair Broadcast Group that runs the Bally Sports regional sports networks. That gives him the unenviable task of managing shrinking distribution revenue and rising rights costs while improving relationships with the major sports leagues whose streaming rights he needs to reach cord-cutting sports fans. The odds are against business as usual with the smart money betting on a race between bankruptcy and a sale, possibly to those same sports leagues.
Adam Silver, NBA
Adam Silver is commissioner of the National Basketball Association, the next major league whose television rights will be available. With its young, hip fan base, NBA rights will command an increase from the $2 billion currently paid by The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Discovery. WBD CEO David Zaslav recently declared that his company doesn’t need the NBA. Maybe not. But its Turner networks won’t be the same without Inside the NBA. The rights could go to the NBA (with John Tesh’s Roundball Rock theme making a comeback) or Amazon, Apple or Google could line up for a three point shot.
Soo Kim, Standard General
Soo Kim, founder and CEO of Standard General, reached a deal to buy Tegna for $8.6 billion almost a year ago. But the approval process has been unusually protracted. Facing opposition from unions, rival station groups and cable operators, Standard General has stressed the deal would be in the public interest, bringing diversity to the station group’s management. Kim has also made extraordinary promises not to lay off newsroom staff or to leverage Tegna’s size to get better retransmission deals for Standard General but no end is in sight. The delays have been costly. Interest rates are up and the media business has entered a recession, lowering the value of broadcast assets. How long can Kim fight to get this deal approved? Or will he give up and let someone else grab Tegna?
James Dolan, AMC Networks
James Dolan, chairman of AMC Networks, let CEO Christina Spade go in November and announced there would be “large-scale layoffs” at the company. Those layoffs were swiftly executed, with about 20% of the company’s staff being let go. Dolan has become executive chairman at AMC, but it remains to be seen what will happen to the company and whether there’s a place in the industry for a small-scale distributor of high-quality content.
Jeremi Gorman, Netflix
Jeremi Gorman joined Netflix as president of worldwide advertising soon after the streaming giant announced that after being proudly commercial free, it would be selling spots. After making an ad-tech deal with Microsoft, Netflix got its ad tier launched with remarkable speed. But early returns were just that: Netflix had too few ad-tier viewers and had to give money back to sponsors. Gorman will aim to scale up before the upfronts. Pro tip: Carnegie Hall is available. ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.