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Abruzzese goes over to the cable side

Joe Abruzzese has long held a very specific opinion of the quality of programming on cable networks: It stinks. At one upfront ad presentation in New York for CBS, the network's ad-sales chief was joined onstage by eight men in pro wrestling costumes and two dressed like Rugrats
characters. These, Abruzzese said, are "the top 10 cable shows."

Now he will be taking a much different stance. He's jumping ship from broadcast icon CBS to run advertising sales at Discovery Networks.

Abruzzese was named president of advertising sales for all of Discovery Networks' properties, including Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Highly regarded by ad buyers and network rivals, he is a major score for Discovery, which is treated along with other cable networks as a stepchild in the TV advertising game.

So Abruzzese will be redirecting energies he once devoted to attacking the "cable fable." Now he'll be doing a little broadcast bashing.

His biggest task in handling Discovery Networks' $1 billion-plus annual ad sales will be to hammer away at the fat premium that broadcast networks get over cable. ABC, CBS and NBC fetch about $15 per thousand viewers. Discovery's cost per thousand viewers (CPM) is just $8, better than most other cable networks'. And, despite cable's theft of millions of viewers from broadcast, the CPM gap is growing, not shrinking.

"If you look at ABC, their ratings down and cable up, there shouldn't be a 40% disparity in pricing," Abruzzese said. "There is great original programming on cable and Discovery. There should be value eyeball for eyeball. I think the industry is headed that way."

Credit for the coup in luring Abruzzese to Discovery goes to Billy Campbell, a former CBS programming executive who became president of Discovery Networks U.S. in June and has a strong relationship with him. However, the hire means that Discovery's previous ad-sales head, Bill McGowan, is suddenly No. 2, reporting to the president of ad sales instead of the president of Discovery Networks.

McGowan dismissed questions about turf fights, saying he supports Cambell's wooing of Abruzzese as a chance to get a heavy broadcast hitter into the Discovery Camp.

Discovery Communications CEO Judith McHale said McGowan's duties won't be diminished. "It's not like we were doing a search for a new head of ad sales. Joe has got unbelievable relationships in the business."

One insider said Abruzzese's hire alone doesn't violate McGowan's recently renewed contract. The network would have to materially diminish his duties to create contractual problems.