Disney-ABC Television Centralizes Ad Sales Under Ferro

The Disney-ABC Television Group is consolidating the ad sales efforts of its entertainment, news and kids businesses under Rita Ferro, who becomes president of ad sales at Disney-ABC.

Ferro has been executive VP of Disney Media Sales and Marketing for Disney Channels Worldwide since 2010.

The move comes two months after ABC Television Network ad sales chief Geri Wang announced plans to retire next month.

Disney's ESPN continues to run its ad sales separately under Ed Erhardt.

Disney-ABC's move follows similar consolidation at NBCUniversal and Fox, in which broadcast and cable sales organizations have been melded to deal with a changing advertising environment.

The move also comes at a time when there has been great turnover in the senior ad sales ranks in the TV business. Last year Toby Byrne of Fox, Jeff Lucas of Viacom, Joe Abruzzese of Discovery Communications, Arlene Manos of AMC Networks, in addition to Wang, all left their posts.

Ben Sherwood, cochairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC, told B&C the new structure had three main missions: "First: better solutions for clients and agencies. Second: innovate to make our ads and our offerings more impactful. And third, of course, make more money."

He said ABC has been studying and thinking about the rapidly changing marketplace since last spring and that the new organization will enable one-stop shopping for clients.

It will also be able to work more closely with ESPN. "Ed Erhardt and Rita are going to make a dynamic duo out there when clients are looking for larger partnerships and relationships that include Disney-ABC and ESPN together," Sherwood said.

Wang had been "very involved with us in conversations about the marketplace and very involved with us in conversations about potential organizational changes," Sherwood said. "I was more surprised than anyone in November when Geri let me know it was her intention to step down."

Ferro will oversee ad revenue generation for ABC Entertainment, ABC Daytime, ABC News, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Freeform. She will also continue to lead the integrated sales team for The Walt Disney Company's online, mobile and social offerings.

She will report to Bruce Rosenblum, president of business operations at Disney-ABC Television.

Rosenblum says that reducing headcount was not the goal of the ad sales reorganization.

“We would expect that Rita and the senior management team will look across all of the brands and all of our infrastructure to see if there is some efficiencies both in the client facing side as well as in the operations and systems side,” Rosenblum said, adding, “While people will be shifting roles and responsibilities, and taking on added responsibilities as they now work across brands, it’s not an effort  directed at head count reduction.”

The ad organization will have three groups.

Brand, revenue and yield management will be headed by Debbie Richman, who had been executive VP of primetime sales at ABC.

Client and audience solutions will be headed by Laura Nathanson, who had been executive VP of sales and marketing for Freeform.

Sales and marketing will be headed by Debra O’Connell, former president of national TV ad sales at the ABC Owned Television Stations.

Richman, Nathanson and O’Connell will all be executive VPs, reporting to Ferro.

“Rita is clearly a very smart and strategic leader,” said Rosenblum. “She has demonstrated innovative thinking around our advertising and sponsorship opportunities already with our kids businesses, and we expect she’ll bring that quickly to our broader brand portfolio.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for us when you think about where the business is going," Ferro said. “The marketplace is evolving. Our clients have come and spoken to us as separate organizations always asking us to come together with great ideas around emotional connections with audiences.”

The new structure will allow Disney-ABC to work across its assets in a more seamless way, she said. “When you think about a future thinking organization and the ability to be agile and responsive to the marketplace, this was the right thing to do for us at the right time.”

Jon Lafayette

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.