Back during the 1984 upfront, when Gary Carr was a media
buyer at SSC&B:Lintas, well-known syndication salesman
Rich Levy was trying to get him to buy a schedule in a new
strip called ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’, along with the spots Carr
wanted in ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’.
Levy promised a good deal on the spots. He also asked Carr to do him a favor
and hire his son. Carr did so, helping to launch the meteoric career of David Levy,
now president for sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting.
“If I didn’t hire him, someone would have,” recalls Carr, now head of national
broadcast for agency TargetCast tcm. “He was likeable, hard working. I knew
in two days that this guy was eventually going
to be a salesman. From day one you just
knew he was destined for something.”
Levy says he remembers going on trips
to NATPE with his dad and falling in love
with the media business. A bunch of his
buddies from Syracuse University started
an ad agency where he did a little bit of
everything. But he set his sights on New
York and at SSC&B was assigned to buy
cable for accounts including Heineken,
Cover Girl and Steak & Ale.
But he soon realized the salesmen he
was meeting with made more money and
he got a job with Cable Networks Inc. selling
spot cable across the country. He had to
become familiar with all of the cable networks,
including CNN. Levy’s efforts were
noticed by CNN’s head of sales, Farrell
Reynolds, who hired him for Turner
Broadcasting 25 years ago. “I came in and
interviewed, and they said, ‘OK, here’s
your office,’” Levy recalls. “It was a good
day, and I’ve been here ever since.”
At Turner, Levy moved from domestic
sales to international sales, where he was
helped by Ted Turner’s connections with world leaders. He returned to the
U.S. to head sales and sports, and in 2009 added distribution to his portfolio.
He is now responsible for all of the company’s domestic revenue.
“Obviously Turner is a great company,” Levy says. “It has great brands. It
has an infrastructure that oozes innovation and allows people to think outside
the box. And when you’re successful, they promote you. That’s something
about this company. It’s always been a growth company.”
Turner CEO Phil Kent started working with Levy on international business.
“He always does the right thing. He always puts the company’s interests ahead of
his own,” Kent says. “More important, he’s very inventive, very entrepreneurial.”
Kent sees Levy as the living legacy of Ted Turner within the company. “Like
Ted, he gets very focused when he thinks something is important for us, whether
it’s achieving certain minimum pricing in the upfront, or getting or renewing
a sports rights deal, or an acquisition like we just did with The Bleacher
Report,” Kent says. “He just does not give up until he figures out a way to
convince everyone else, and he does.”
In some of those discussions, while he usually gets
what he wants, he may mangle some well-known expressions
to get there, those close to him say. Some
Turner executives are even known to affectionately
collect such “Levyisms,” like “Let’s not put the carrot
before the horse,” Kent quotes with a chuckle.
But Kent is also impressed by how Levy has “a
great nose for the market and a great sense of when to close deals. He’s willing
to walk away from hundreds of millions of dollars because he thinks we
deserve something, and it’s served us well. He has a steel gut when it comes
to crunch-time negotiations.”
In the advertising market, Levy’s often drawn-out negotiations with
GroupM’s Rino Scanzoni—also being inducted into the B&C Hall of Fame
this year—are well known. “He’s difficult because he’s smart and he has a
view of what he believes he can accomplish and he carries that view out flawlessly,
” Scanzoni says. “That makes it a challenge. It’s not personal. It’s business.
David and I probably have the highest mutual respect for each other.”
National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern praises Levy’s
marketplace knowledge when it comes to negotiations. “Nobody comes as well
prepared,” Stern says. Levy also understands the NBA’s business. “He could run
one of our teams. He could run our league. But we like him at Turner because we
love their success, their revenues and their increasing ability to pay the rights fees,
which we’re sure he will conclude our product is worth,” Stern says.
Stern says he’s gone to “more than a couple of games” with Levy, his sons
and his wife. “We feel that he’s simply a partner in our business, and frankly,
that’s the tradition that we have with Turner.”
Levy also has helped Turner grow, using NBA and NCAA basketball to
grow its networks and get into digital. “He has transitioned Turner Sports in
the best possible way,” Stern says. “It’s been an absolute pleasure watching
him grow into this enormously important, expanded role.”
Levy is newer to the distribution world, but Derek Chang, executive VP
at DirecTV, who is due to leave at year-end, says Levy has learned quickly.
“The most important thing David does understand is the value of these relationships,
” Chang says. “These are ongoing relationships where not everything
is in the contract. There’s a lot of other stuff that people want to try
to do together, and David will, to his credit—he’s a salesman through and
through—try to sell you his pitch. And when that doesn’t work, he’ll get realistic,
and his next question is, ‘OK, how do we get something done?’ I think
there’s a spirit of cooperation that is probably fading from our industry.”
Levy is a very outgoing guy, Chang adds: “Anytime I’m at a major sporting
event, I just have to text him … because I know he’ll be there.”
Linda Yaccarino, now president of advertising sales for NBCUniversal,
worked for Levy for 10 years and saw Turner grow over that span. “It takes
a really innovative leader and deal-maker to do that, and being someone who
worked for him for a lot of years, I can tell you he drove a big part of that,
and he should really be proud of what he’s contributed to that company,”
Yaccarino says. “He has a big fan in me. It was quite challenging working
for him. Now it’s much more fun competing with him.”
Turner’s Kent adds that Levy has a whole other side, though, beyond his
career. He points out Levy’s commitment to fund-raising for the Juvenile
Diabetes Research Foundation. “His golf outings are legendary,” he says.
Levy’s also on the Ad Council board and actively involved with his alma
mater. “He’s got a really good heart,” Kent says.
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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.