Dynamic Dealmaker

Imagine being a top distribution executive, negotiating deals for a stable
of cable networks generating $2 billion in annual revenue from affiliates.
Now imagine that portfolio, and responsibility, more than doubling after
a complicated merger with a bigger group of networks.

Add a major role integrating two affiliate staffs into one — moving one
group from Philadelphia to New Jersey, knowing there weren’t enough
jobs to go around — and you have a sense of what the last couple of
years have been like for Dana Zimmer, the 41-year-old executive vice
president of TV networks distribution at NBCUniversal.

She’s also the mom of “two beautiful, well-adjusted children,”
as friend Jennifer Dangar, executive vice president
of distribution at The Weather Channel Cos. and a longago
colleague at Discovery Networks, says. And a thoughtful
friend: “No matter how busy she is, she always takes
the time to help a friend and is incredibly supportive of
her colleagues, teammates, etc.”


Her peers always underscore her people skills in addition
to her business stamina, which Zimmer herself credits
largely to powerful teammates and partly to caffeine-fueled

Sandy Wax, president of preschool network Sprout,
which Zimmer represents, says she “always has time for
a phone call, ‘how’s it going, what’s happening, where are
we?’ She’s a unique mix of human empathy and razorsharp
business skills.”

With an across-the-table perspective, Cox Communications
vice president of content acquisition Kathy Payne
says: “So often in deal-making, you have to negotiate
against people who seem focused on making a deal difficult, contentious and painfully slow as possible until you
get to the 11th hour, when everything has to be finalized
or the channels go dark. That certainly is one way of negotiating,
but I think Dana’s way focuses on reaching a deal
that is more creative and benefits both parties more. It is
rare to find that talent in the business today.”

Fittingly, Zimmer entered the distribution arena via
sports. “I love sports, I played sports all through growing
up” in small-town Dunmore, Pa., she says. (You can
Google Dana Iannielli for some of her softball and tennis

Her first cable job was as an intern at Home Team
Sports, now Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, in 1993.
She later worked on the extremely challenging launch
of the New York Yankees’ YES Network and the smoother
launch of the New York Mets’ SNY. In between came stints
at Discovery Communications and Fox Cable Networks.

Recruited to Comcast by Jeff Shell, then head of the
MSO’s network group, for the SNY launch in 2005, she’s
taken on distribution duties for USA, Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen,
MSNBC, CNBC and mun2, in addition to such Comcast
legacy networks as E!, Golf Channel, Style and NBC Sports
Network (formerly Versus). She reports to Bridget Baker,
TV networks distribution president for NBCU Television
Networks Distribution. Baker reports to EVP Matt Bond.

When time came, after the Comcast-NBCU merger, to
combine affiliate staff s, Zimmer’s team on the 31st fl oor
of One Comcast Center in Philadelphia had to re-apply for
jobs in Englewood Cliff s, N.J.

With Baker in Los Angeles and Bond in New York, “Dana
was the person everyone went to” for advice on the family-
and job-related issues involved, Sprout chief Wax notes.

“The most stressful part for me was making sure that the
people were treated fairly, and we were trying to find good
homes for everyone, including those that didn’t make the
move,” Zimmer, who now works in New York and New Jersey,
says. Fortunately, Comcast helped nearly all keep or
find jobs, she says. Not 100%, but “in the high 90s.”

Zimmer’s to-do list for 2012 includes strategizing on
a new Houston-based regional sports network, going to
market with the rebranded NBC Sports Network and distributing
and authenticating the 2012 Olympic Games in


That’s, of course, on top of the usual (and maybe
unusual) array of renewals, and the rising challenges presented
by operators looking to contain video expenses
while adding online rights and packaging flexibility.

“There’s always a hot button when deals are up for renegotiation,
and ‘TV Everywhere’ is it right now,” she says.
“That maybe feels more complicated because of rights sensitivities
and also how it’s going to affect the overall digital
model, because everyone has a way that they want to
roll out digital products.”

Zimmer says she has a lot of respect for the affiliates she
deals with who are coping with rising costs and declining
video margins amid competition. “They’re really put
in a tough spot with trying to maintain the programming
that’s on air and control the cost.”

With all she has going on at work, Zimmer also is thankful
that her husband, Clay, who teaches fourth grade in
public school, has a job with consistent hours and not a
lot of travel. “I always say he has the job that really matters
in society.”

And daughter Ava, 8, and son Chase, 4, “definitely keep
me humble. I love being a mom.”


Hometown: Dunmore, Pa.

Age: 41

Current job: EVP, TV networks
distribution, NBCUniversal

First job: “Worked the counter
at Sheeley’s Drug Store, still
independently owned by my Dad”

Favorite TV shows:Enlightened,
Chelsea Lately, After Lately

High praise: “Dana embodies all the
qualities of a ‘Wonder Woman,’ from
her tenacity at the negotiating table to
her creativity in closing key distribution
deals.” — Bridget Baker, president, TV
Networks Distribution, NBCUniversal
Television Networks Distribution