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Adlink CEO to Head Comcast Sales

Adlink CEO Charlie Thurston is about to leave the No. 2 DMA to operate on a national stage.

Nearly two weeks ago, Comcast Corp. said it had hired Thurston, who has been the Los Angeles interconnect's president and CEO for nine years, as its president of ad sales. Thurston will leave Adlink — the No. 2 interconnect in terms of subscribers, with 3.5 million — on Feb. 1 and assume his new post in March.

Thurston, who will report to Comcast cable unit president Steven Burke, is expected to go bicoastal and commute from L.A. to the MSO's headquarters in Philadelphia, at least during his early months on the job.

He'll also go from supervising the top-grossing interconnect — which became the first to top $100 million in sales in 1999 — to overseeing 16 interconnects under the Comcast MarketLink banner.

And that total will grow significantly should the Comcast-AT&T Broadband merger go through. Broadband operates 23 interconnects, including 13 within the top 25 DMAs.

Interestingly, one of the Adlink board members charged with finding Thurston's replacement has quit his MSO. Wes Hart left Charter Communications Inc. as vice president of ad sales earlier this month.

"The resignation was a mutual decision by Wes and Charter," said Charter spokesman Andy Morgan, adding that corporate ad-sales director Dave Downey will beHart's interim successor.

Aside from its chairman, Tom Feige of Time Warner Cable, Adlink's board now consists of AT&T ad sales chief Judi Heady, as well as counterparts Jack Olson of Adelphia Communications Corp. and Billy Farina of Cox Communications Inc.

Unlike AT&T, Adelphia, Charter, Cox and Time Warner, Comcast is not an equity partner in Adlink.

Several cable-industry sources pegged Adlink executive vice president and general manager Hank Oster as the frontrunner to succeed Thurston. Oster played a key role on the team that helped Adlink's sales grow to $138 million in 2000 — a spurt due largely to its $10 million upgrade of digital ad-insertion technology in 1995, as well as its longtime emphasis on driving sales through marketing and promotional tie-ins.

"There is no No. 2 [contender]," said one sales executive. "He's done a spectacular job. I'd be shocked if he didn't get it."

That's unless Oster — supposedly "a Philly boy" — follows Thurston to Comcast, another source speculated.

Meanwhile, some cable ad-sales sources said the proposed AT&T-Comcast union could bolster spot-cable sales dramatically if Thurston can replicate Adlink's "Targeted TV" concept across a combined base of 22 million subscribers.

In the announcement, Burke praised Thurston as "uniquely qualified" to lead Comcast, "one of the best-clustered cable companies in the country." Thurston also said he'll serve as Comcast's representative on the board of spot-rep firm National Cable Communications.

Last fall — soon after the launch of the Comcast MarketLink interconnect brand — MSO senior vice president of ad sales Roger Sverdlik suddenly departed. Group vice president Steve Feingold had succeeded the onetime ABC executive on an interim basis.

One cable veteran described Thurston as "a demonstrated winner who built a great culture at Adlink. But he's in his early 40s and has been doing basically the same job for 10 years."

Associates at Adlink said they are sorry to see Thurston leave. But they may quietly be hoping that his knowledge of Adlink's Adtag and Adcopy audience-segmenting tools may help speed the licensing of that technology.

Adlink — which had just licensed those tools to the New York Interconnect — intends to market them elsewhere, according to senior vice president of marketing and communications Vicki Lins.

Hart, who was director of ad sales at Marcus Cable before Charter acquired the MSO, spent last year establishing Charter's own national-sales interconnect.

In an agreement with vendor Pathfire (then Video Networks Inc.), he said the MSO was streamlining its video-distribution and back-office processes while also mounting a "one-stop shopping" sales operation for clients interested in its 5 million subscribers.

Hart was the only senior Marcus executive to join Charter, some cable sources said. Charter brass eventually decided "they wanted someone more forceful, proactive," said one source.