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Gambelli Gearing Fox News Channel Up for Midterm Election-Year Gains

Marianne Gambelli is expecting 2018 to be a huge year for Fox News Channel.

Gambelli, named president of advertising sales last May, came in and made several changes in the top-rated cable network’s ad sales organization, which had racked up record sales in the election year of 2016.

Gambelli would not confirm that 2017 was another record year, but according to research company Standard Media Index, Fox News Channel’s 2017 ad revenue for January through November was $726 million, up 10% from $657 million the previous year.

While calls for advertiser boycotts occasionally make news (in one such case, loyal Fox News viewers responded by tossing their coffeemakers after Keurig pulled spots), the network has been adding advertisers, Gambelli said. “We’re seeing a lot of new business from clients that have never been in news before, so my guess is they’re looking at this as entertainment.”

As ratings have dropped for entertainment networks, more advertisers are looking to spend ad dollars on the news networks, said Dave Campanelli, executive vice president and managing partner, video investment at Horizon Media. “All three news networks become a go-to for rerouting some of that money. It adds up over time,” he said.

Despite Cord-Cutting, Time-Shifting, TV Ads Still Yield Best ROI: Horizon Media

Campanelli said some clients might want to spend — or not spend — money based on a news network’s political slant. But to the agency, “reaching the entire news audience means buying multiple networks … you’re covering yourself, reaching different people without any perceived bias.”

While the polarizing, unpredictable and pugnacious Trump administration helped make 2017 Fox News’s most watched year, there was also plenty going on behind the scenes at the network.

Fox News chair Roger Ailes resigned in July 2016, and top-rated primetime host Bill O’Reilly and network president Bill Shine were dismissed last spring amid multiple accusations of sexual harrassment.

Two female hosts, Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren, also left the network, which had to create a new primetime lineup.

Gambelli, who was president of broadcast sales when she left NBC in 2012 and became chief investment officer at Horizon, was one of several women brought into high-level jobs at the network after the dismissals. She led Fox News through the upfront, then began making changes to the sales organization.

Gambelli has been upping Fox News’s data game, and the network is among a handful testing Data Plus Math’s new sales attribution platform during the first quarter.

Under Gambelli, Fox News is also working more closely with Fox Networks Group and may use its AIM data-based sales system. FNG is one of the partners of Open AP, which is trying to standardize audience buying for clients, and Gambelli said Fox News is moving in that direction as well.

“I feel like we’re a better play combined than we are separate,” she said.

Gambelli also promoted a group of top executives. “We were a very flat organization. I also wanted to put my core team together and let them know that this is a team going forward,” she said.

She intends to more formally integrate digital into the sales structure, explaining that the promotions give her room to do that.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of integrating digital and TV, which was more divided that it is now,” Gambelli said.

Under Ailes, Fox News was focused on TV. Now it is making a bigger effort to create digital content, adding advertising packages that include TV and online material. Gambelli said the network now is putting together cross-platform election packages that will take advantage of Fox News’s social influence.

Giving Clients the Business
Gambelli will also be putting more emphasis around Fox Business Network.

“Where CNBC is very much about the trader or around the stock market, I think our financial news is more accessible to the average American and how policy and all the changes going on in Washington affect your financial picture,” she said.

More change is surely in store for Fox News in the wake of 21st Century Fox’s blockbuster deal to sell $52 billion in TV and film assets to The Walt Disney Co. Fox News and Fox Business will remain as part of a new Fox business dedicated to news, sports and other live programming. But before that deal closes, another upfront will take place.

“We’re working on that right now,” Gambelli said. “I think we’ll continue to do more intimate presentations, agency by agency.”

The pitch will cover the network’s new primetime lineup, featuring Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Gambelli also plans to adjust the approach for Fox and Friends, called TV’s most influential news show because President Donald Trump watches it so closely.

The price for spots on Fox and Friends rose to $2,760 per 30 seconds in 2017 from $2,594 in 2016, according to SMI. Spots on CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe cost $2,248 and $2,111, respectively.

“I’m trying to sell it more as entertainment, more like the Today show,” Gambelli said. “As much as it’s hard news, there are musical segments, and I think with the early morning shows on the broadcast side declining, we have an opportunity to sell that a little differently — not on the political side.”