Thurston Eyes Future at Comcast

Charlie Thurston — who's preparing to take his sales-management acumen national when he starts as president of ad sales for Comcast Corp.'s cable unit this month — praised his new employer's move to consolidate its key markets.

Thurston, the former president and CEO of Los Angeles-area interconnect Adlink, said, "Comcast is leading the charge" with its 16 interconnects under the Comcast MarketLink brand.

Comcast operates three key interconnects in the top 10 markets: Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit. It also has a presence in the New York Interconnect, which serves the No. 1 DMA.

Thurston — whose ongoing discussions with Comcast executives over the past two years had intensified in the past three months — lauded "the good chemistry" among the sales personnel at the MSO and its interconnects. He also cited Comcast cable unit president Steve Burke's broadcast background as a reason for joining the company.

His future plans entail matching what Comcast wants to do with some of what Adlink has done, said Thurston.

"It all comes down to making spot cable easy to buy" through the one-stop shopping approach, he said.

"There's still an enormous opportunity with spot cable," said Thurston, who will oversee Comcast's local, regional and national-spot ad-sales businesses.

Cable carved out "only a $3.3 billion share" of spot TV's $28 billion volume, said Thurston, who blamed the relatively small sum on cable's reputation as "a difficult business for advertisers to get their hands around."

The more that interconnects popularize the one-stop shopping concept, the more the ad community's view of spot cable will improve, he said, adding that spending should rise as well.

Looking back at his 14 years at Adlink, Thurston said its success really began in 1996, with the gradual implementation of true one-stop shopping. That's when holdout Century Communications Inc. joined the other MSO partners, adding key towns like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to the mix.

Over the years, the interconnect burgeoned from an initial 20 systems to 80, and boasted the ability to insert on 40 networks by 2000. Consequently, Adlink's ad sales jumped from $1 million circa 1988 to $138 million in 2000 — a total bolstered by the audience-segmenting tools Adtag and Adcopy.

Although Adlink just recently licensed Adtag and Adcopy to the New York Interconnect, and plans to pitch other entities on the products, Thurston stopped short of committing to licensing those tools from his former employer for Comcast.

"My experience in that is going to be helpful, but first I need to get better oriented," he said.

Assuming that Comcast's AT&T Broadband acquisition goes forward down the road, Thurston would not offer speculation about whether Comcast might package both MSOs' interconnects, to further expand their reach.

"I'm 100 percent focused on Comcast for now," he said.

Though Thurston lavished praise on his former Adlink team, he declined to comment on possible contenders for his old post — including the supposed front-runner, Adlink executive vice president and general manager Hank Oster.

Adlink senior vice president of marketing and communications Vicki Lins said the interconnect's board of directors is conducting that search.