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NBC's Shapiro Out, Replacement Watch Begins

Within minutes of news leaking last week that Neal Shapiro will be leaving his post as president of NBC News, the guessing game began: Who will replace him? Initially, the buzz centered on three internal candidates—NBC Nightly News Executive Producer Steve Capus, NBC News Senior VP Phil Griffin and MSNBC chief Rick Kaplan. But Flash! hears that all three are long shots. There was also speculation about Court TV chief Henry Schleiff's getting the nod, but that's a reach, too.

One rumor making the rounds is that NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol will be tapped for a dual role—just as his mentor, the late Roone Arledge, famously ran both ABC's news and sports divisions. Does Ebersol have pull on the news side at NBC? Well, he helped put former sports producer Jim Bell in his job as executive producer of Today last month.

Meanwhile, the official spin continues that Shapiro asked to be let out of his contract. The reality is, he was shown the door by his boss, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker. Shapiro's star had been fading for more than a year. Major changes at the news division, such as naming Kaplan to run MSNBC and replacing Tom Touchet with Bell, were made by Zucker and presented to Shapiro as done deals. Famously loyal, Shapiro is said to have hoped the network might reciprocate by allowing him to stay on in some capacity until his pact ends in 2006, but that's unlikely to happen.

TiVo Goofs

Your TiVo is a bit like Big Brother—a nice and helpful Big Brother—tracking everything you record, everything you watch, every commercial you skip. But sometimes TiVo forgets, and that has frustrated Nielsen Media Research and TV executives yearning to understand exactly how wide use of digital video recorders might disrupt the advertising business.

Nielsen has been working with TiVo for months to authoritatively report DVR users' viewing behavior, but perfecting the process has taken far longer than anyone expected. Ad executives last week outlined one snag that has slowed the pace. TiVos already regularly phone home to report what shows are recorded, etc., when they update their on-screen guides. So the companies created a “panel” composed of 10,000 homes. TiVo was gathering the data and delivering it to Nielsen—with demographics but no identifying information—for processing.

The problem: Some TiVo models didn't allocate enough capacity to hold viewing data. Heavy users who generate a lot of keystrokes would fill up the data cache, prompting their TiVo box to start deleting older data that hadn't yet been uploaded. TiVo, then, was delivering incomplete information to Nielsen. And, of course, it's the heavy DVR users who could be the most disturbing to TV networks' advertising model, so their habits are of particular interest.

Nielsen had been providing preliminary TiVo research to networks but suspended operations. “We had to rebuild the panel from scratch,” says a Nielsen spokeswoman. The historical data it had already processed is now unreliable. TiVo readily fixed the technical glitch last month.

The research chief for one cable network says he's looking forward to Nielsen and TiVo's getting back on track. “I haven't seen a report out of them in months.”

CPM, R.I.P.?

John Muszynski, CEO of ad-buying giant Starcom, Chicago, brought down the house at last week's Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau local ad sales conference in Chicago. On a panel loaded with some of TV's top media buyers, Muszynski declared that Starcom is abandoning traditional cost-per-thousand (CPM) advertising models based on the delivery of audience impressions. He wants to move toward “pay-for-effectiveness” models that reward media outlets for delivering consumers who are more engaged with his clients' messages. “Hear what I'm saying,” he told the audience. “If you engage with consumers, we will pay you for it.”

Cable execs love any kind of talk that might tilt money away from the broadcast networks, but this message, coming from the powerful Starcom, was especially significant. They've been preaching the “engagement” mantra for years, but now it looks like the agency may have figured out how to make it work.

Muszynski hinted that the new metrics resemble the kind of “cost-per-lead” generation deals used by the direct- response and online industries. But he wouldn't reveal any other details to B&C, saying that he wanted to wait until the current ad-buying season is over. The implication: Some of the deals the agency is negotiating right now may be using the new approach.