Comcast-NBCU: Dave Cassaro Expected to Be Named Joint Venture's Ad Chief

Long-serving Comcast ad sales executive Dave Cassaro is widely expected to ascend to the preeminent position in all TV ad sales once the Comcast deal for NBC Universal is completed, an announcement of which is expected Dec. 4.

Madison Avenue executives are buzzing with the as-yet-unconfirmed news that Comcast networks' head of sales Cassaro will run the entire sales operation of what is a $9 billion TV advertising powerhouse. That company will encompass the NBC broadcast network and a huge cable portfolio ranging from mainstays such as USA Network, Bravo and E! Entertainment to more niche services such as Oxygen and PBS Sprout.

Cassaro did not respond to a call for comment, and Comcast executives declined to comment on the position.

Cassaro's prospective ascension comes as part of a wholesale reordering of the power structure in the U.S. TV ad business. As first reported by B&C, this week saw veteran ABC ad sales president Mike Shaw throw in the towel after decades with the Mouse House to become a strategic advisor.

While cable advertising accounted for just 5% of Comcast's $33.4 billion consolidated revenue in 2008, cable channels have been the lone positive growth story during recession-era earnings calls for media companies. In general they have been taking a bigger chunk of marketers' budgets, partly because they are less expensive than broadcast TV, and partly because viewers are migrating away from the kind of mass entertainment provided by broadcast networks.

One major component of Comcast's deal for NBC Universal is the prospect of offering advertisers advanced services such as interactivity. The Philadelphia-based cable operator said this week it has upgraded set-top boxes in eight million digital cable homes. That upgrade is already helping consumers use their remote controls to buy products on HSN's Shop by Remote service. What Comcast has been offering regionally, may now roll out across national platforms such as the NBC network.

For Cassaro, a 58-year-old executive from Long Island, N.Y., that might be just the thrust of his new gig: selling advertisers on the advanced services they've been craving on a bigger scale. Cassaro's role at Comcast has involved selling its video-on-demand products as well as its clutch of cable channels.

His journey to the top of media business however has been a circuitous one. He was part of the team that set up a sales unit for the Fox network; he also worked at CBS under then ad sales chief Joe Abruzzese before moving to E! in 1990 to get a taste of cable. Cassaro left E! as a senior vice president where he handled not just ad sales but affiliate relations. He joined Comcast in 2005 and is now president of Comcast Network Ad Sales.

Friends say he's more than equipped to run the broad-based advertising businesses of the new entity given his prior broadcast experience. Cassaro is known as a tough, sometimes brusque negotiator to the uninitiated, though one friend said Wednesday: "He's well respected and has a thorough pedigree. He's tough but fair and very shrewd."

Said another executive of Cassaro's ascension: "The days of big network arrogance are crumbling."

Cassaro's new role, as yet undefined, leaves a question mark hanging over affable NBC Universal president ad sales Mike Pilot, who had parachuted in from parent company General Electric where he was president of equipment finance. Mr. Pilot had no comment.