Fox Ad-Sales Chief Marianne Gambelli to Retire, Succeeded by Jeff Collins (EXCLUSIVE)

Marianne Gambelli, one of the few remaining senior ad-sales executives in the TV industry who held direct relationships with advertisers when primetime broadcast programs were seen as the primary venue for Madison Avenue’s dollars, is stepping down as Fox Corp’s president of ad sales. She will be succeeded by Jeff Collins, currently the executive vice president of ad sales for Fox News Media.

Gambelli is retiring after logging significant stints at Fox and the independent media buyer Horizon Media, where she was chief investment officer, as well as a 22-year long career at NBC, where she rose to supervise ad sales for the NBC primetime lineup as well as NBC Sports. She initially joined Fox in 2017 as president of sales for Fox News Media.

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“I want to thank Marianne for her many contributions to Fox and congratulate her on a phenomenal career,” said Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s CEO, in a statement. “Marianne has contributed immensely to the successful execution of our strategies, and it has been a great pleasure of mine to work alongside her. Jeff has established himself as a leader and an innovator and we are confident that he will continue to build value for our advertising partners across all of our platforms.” As Gambelli did, Collins will report to Murdoch.

Gambelli’s exit comes during an era when TV networks are uncertain about future flows of ad revenue. Big advertisers such as Procter & Gamble and Apple still value TV, because it attracts large audiences who watch such programs as “Sunday Night Football” and “The Masked Singer.” But marketers are increasingly intrigued by their growing ability to use streaming video to target narrower crowds of viewers who may be grouped by geography or their interest in a particular product, such as a new car, or by common behaviors, such as expecting a new child. And advertisers have been holding their purse-strings tighter as they grapple with such recent events as last year’s Hollywood labor strikes and a work stoppage by auto-industry employees as well as fears spurred by a rise in inflation and the threat of a recession.

“I think there’s tremendous pressure on marketers to show return on investment and use the data they have to connect with their consumers in a different way. The business I grew up in is shifting,” says Gambelli, in an interview “We all knew that change was going to come. I didn’t expect it this soon>”

She projects more change — big and imminent — in the world of media sales. “The struggle is going to be based around whether marketers want direct attribution, going from mass to a one-to-one relationship,” she adds. “That’s a fundamental shift.”

Fox has fared better than many during the period. The company has aligned itself strongly with sports telecasts and news programming — content that is often watched live — even as it has made forays into streaming with outlets such as ad-supported Tubi and subscription-based Fox Nation. And it has tried to maintain the integrity of the ad pricing it gets for TV programming by keeping most of its sports content off of streaming venues. During Gambelli’s tenure, Fox Sports broke the company’s revenue records for a broadcast of the 2023 Super Bowl and showed new creativity by going after ad money that might normally have gone to Warner Bros. Discovery’s Food Network with a slate of cooking content from entrepreneur Gordon Ramsay, In November, Fox’s stations unit launched a new group aimed at serving political advertisers, who are expected to spend heavily in the coming U.S. election.

Media buyers and marketing executives have appreciated having someone with such a long tenure in the field as the business continues to undergo extensive change. Gambelli’s team has had to consider new technologies to provide audience measurement and consumer data, all as clients ponder new video-centric venues such as YouTube, Roku and Twitch to reach younger consumers. But Gambelli’s longevity — and a proclivity for doing deals in private, rather than using the media to force them — lent her credibility that is hard to match even as Fox and its rivals grappled with seismic shifts in their economic activity.

Gambelli has helped advertisers make big adjustments in the past. She played a critical role in securing a landmark pact in 2007 between NBCUniversal and the large GroupM media-buying unit of WPP that paved the way for new ad deals that took into consideration new audience behaviors. At the time, viewers were skipping past commercials thanks to the use of a DVR. GroupM and NBC agreed to a new so-called “C3” measure that accounted for views of commercials rather than programs — so long as advertises would pay for up to three days’ worth of the ads being seen.

Still, says Gambelli, “I hope my legacy is more about the people and the impact I’ve had on them and vice versa — them on me.”

Collins will face challenges in months to come.

When Fox bought Tubi in 2020 for $440 million, most competitors had not put a major stake in the ground in terms of ad-supported video streaming. In 2024, Amazon is about to launch an ad-supported tier of Prime Video, and ad-supported tiers tied to Netflix and Disney+ are now in the market.
Meanwhile, Fox News, like other cable-news outlets, faces both a glut of cheap supply from direct-response advertisers as well as increasing wariness from mainstream sponsors who once were less hesitant about putting commercials in news programs.

There is also concern about whether the 2024 election will spur new viewership after the loss of Tucker Carlson, the controversial but well-watched opinion host. Fox is counting on the election not only bring broader viewership to Fox News, but also to drive spikes in revenue at its local TV stations. “We think investors are worried that CY24 ratings will not revert to ’20/’22 levels during this election year,” says Steven Cahall, a Wells Fargo media-industry analyst, in a recent research note, regarding Fox News viewership.

“I look forward to leading the Ad Sales team as we continue to work with our valued partners to provide unique and compelling connections with the passionate audiences only Fox can offer,” said Collins, in a statement. During his time at Fox News, he has worked to expand the company’s offering to advertisers, creating opportunities in programming less focused on straight politics as controversies surrounding hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham spurred calls for sponsors to boycott their series.
In March of last year, Collins worked to entice interest from advertisers in content that has been viewed as less charged. Packages for sale included inventory in primetime documentary series on Fox Business Network as well as on Fox Weather, the company’s broadband weather-news outlet. Fox News also offered ads in specific programming blocks that might include cooking segments on “Fox & Friends” or alignment in “Gutfeld.”

“We do have enough scale to create lifestyle-only plans and bundles for advertisers that don’t historically buy in news,” Collins told Variety in 2023.

The executive joined Fox News in 2019 from Viant Technology, where he was the company’s chief revenue officer. He helped drive expansion in ad technology and worked with digital and programmatic advertisers, a bigger portion of many media companies’ revenue in the current climate. In 2016, Collins helped manage the integration of Viant into Time Inc. business following its acquisition of the company.
He also spent 18 years at Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting.. As senior vice president of sales and marketing, he oversaw all east coast sales representing 70 percent of the revenue across the CNN properties including, CNN, HLN, CNN Airport and CNN Digital.

Gambelli says she is looking forward to travel on roads other than Madison Avenue — at least for a while. “It’s an amazing business and I’m very lucky to have been in it,” she says. “I don’t know how I found it but it certainly got under my skin.”

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