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Byrne Named Fox Ad Sales Chief

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

Fox Broadcasting named Toby Byrne as the network's new head of sales, passing over some more senior and better-known executives who will continue to head up key areas for Fox including sports and integrated sales.

Byrne had been eastern sales head for the network. He will be replacing long-time president of sales Jon Nesvig, known as the dean of network ad sales, who is retiring at the end of the year.

"This decision was incredibly challenging," said by Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra. "Jon has left us such a deep bench of extraordinary talent that any of our key sales executives would have been a tremendous choice. However, Toby's management skills, broad understanding of new and traditional media, and outstanding communication skills closed the deal. We're delighted he'll be leading our sales efforts for years to come."

Byrne is a 15-year veteran of Fox's sales staff, having originally joined the company in early 1996 as an account services representative. He was made an account executive in December of that year, became a vice president in 2003, and was promoted to his previous position supervising Eastern sales in January 2006. Prior to joining Fox, Byrne was a media buyer at BBDO in New York.

Harry Keeshan, head of broadcast for media agency PHD, called Byrne a "great choice amongst many within the company that are qualified to take the job. Toby is a fantastic guy who will continue to work hard, lead and learn from the people around him. We look forward to our continued partnership with Fox."

Vinciquerra said other members of the Fox sales team will be staying in
place and reporting to Byrne. Jean Rossi will continue to serve as president of
Fox One, the company's integrated marketing group, and executive vice president
of sales, while Neil Mulcahy will remain executive VP and head of the Fox
Sports ad sales team. Susan Wachter will continue as executive VP of sales
planning & administration and Audrey Steele will remain senior VP, ad sales
research & marketing. "These are gifted and resourceful executives who
have built a reputation for integrity over many years," Vinciquerra said.

Ad buyers and sales executives had speculated that if Fox stayed inside in filling the job, Rossi and Mulcahy were the most likely candidates."I'm speechless," said one top media buyer when the decision was announced. There were also reports that Rossi and Mulcahy would share the top post, although Fox insiders shot down that possibility.

Vinciquerra confirmed that that both Rossi and Mulcahy were tops among a handful of well-qualified internal candidates for Nesvig's job. He said they will have important roles going forward because Fox's strategy is to add sports properties to its lineup and increase its emphasis on integrated marketing across News Corp. properties.

"Neil is just unbelievably good at sports and we're going to be acquiring more product," Vinciquerra said. Rossi, as head of Fox One, will spearhead the integration and multi-platform efforts. "We'll be out there looking to satisfy [clients] as they change the way they market to their customers, so we'll be at the forefront of that with Jean leading the charge."

No outside candidates were considered, Vinciquerra said. "I know this is a homer viewpoint, but I think any other network would love to have this sales team selling their network," he said.

With its high rated shows, led by American Idol, and an audience that skews youngest among the broadcast networks, advertising on Fox is usually in demand by advertisers in high-spending categories such as motion pictures and fast-food restaurants. And because it programs one less hour per night, it has less inventory than the other networks, giving it more leverage in setting prices.

Nesvig announced his plans to retire in October, just before becoming the first ad sales executive to be inducted into Broadcasting & Cable's Hall of Fame.

Nesvig joined Fox in 1989 from NBC after NBC was acquired by General Electric.

He brought credibility to the fledgling web, called the coat hanger network because of the low-powered UHF stations in its lineup.

Fox's fortunes improved after it got into business with the National Football League, stealing not only CBS' NFC franchise, but a half dozen key CBS affiliates as well.

With shows like House, Glee, The Simpsons and American Idol in the lineup, Fox has been the No. 1 network among adults 18-49 for the past few years, enabling Nesvig to be a spokesman not only for his own top-rated network, but for the power of broadcasting as an advertising medium.

In 2008, Nesvig championed remote-free TV, which offered advertisers the opportunity to put their spots in programs with half the normal commercial load. Despite higher recall levels for commercials in the low-clutter programming, the experiment failed because advertisers balked at paying prices high enough to compensate for the reduced inventory.

This year, Fox and Nesvig sold out the Super Bowl in October, months earlier than normal, getting prices in excess of $3 million for the last few spots.