ABC taps sales, marketing topper

Geri Wang to replace Mike Shaw at network

Geri Wang is taking the reins of ABC’s sales and marketing team just as the outlook for network advertising sales is brightening.

With a healthy scatter ad marketplace this spring, forecasters are predicting an improved upfront season for the nets — a nice improvement on last year’s bruising sesh, in which broadcasters were faced with cost-per-thousand (CPM) declines.

“Things definitely feel better, as evidenced by scatter,” said Wang, who was promoted to prexy of ad sales and marketing for ABC on Wednesday. “You can see it and feel it. Are things perfect? No. But I’m personally very optimistic,” she said.

The Alphabet is believed to have sold only about 75% of its upfront inventory last year, writing about $1.9 billion in sales (vs. around $2.4 billion the year before, in a healthier economy).

For 2010, Wang and her team will have a strong Wednesday story to sell — particularly family comedies “Modern Family” and “The Middle,” which offer up a positive environment for advertisers.

“Every single person I talk to about these shows say it’s appointment TV,” Wang said. “They’re making it their business to be in front of the set.”

On the flip side, Wang won’t have drama staple “Lost” to sell any more. But as she prepares to lead ABC’s development meetings with media buyers next month, Wang noted that ABC has been aggressive in picking up pilots this season, having ordered 23 comedies and dramas so far.

“For us, hope springs eternal, and Steve (McPherson) and his team have not pulled back in any way in terms of our content commitment,” she said. “We want to bring a smart, balanced portfolio to the marketplace.”

Wang said it’s still too soon to determine what ABC’s major upfront message will be to advertisers. But the Alphabet net is likely to stress once again its upscale adults 18-49 audience — particularly its successes with viewers who make more than $100,000. That’s an important distinction in this still-shaky economy, she said.

“We’re not just delivering viewers; we’re delivering people who can afford to buy brands,” she said.

Wang will also have to contend with evolving demands from advertisers. She inherits the top sales and marketing job as advertisers demand more information about multiplatform viewership — stats that the nets have been pushing Nielsen to deliver.

“We’re on this tipping point where so many of the different metrics that drive the currency of our business are about to be fulfilled,” she said. “We already have so much data, but it’s the next level of metrics when we’ll truly understand real purchasing power and media habits, and when we can get at people who make the buying decisions.”

Now that working with advertisers includes putting together marketing plans beyond the traditional 30-second spot, Wang is also in a position to grow Disney/ABC Unlimited, the sales group that handles Disney’s cross-platform media deals.

Disney/ABC Unlimited has been more aggressively packaging campaigns that encompass integration on programming, online components and spots on a wide range of Disney properties. (In one deal last fall, Disney/ABC Unlimited sealed a megapact with Weinstein that embedded content about “Nine” on a wide variety of shows, including ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and daytime sudsers.)

Wang is familiar with virtually every ABC daypart, having joined the network in 1990 as associate director of daytime sales proposals. She has also worked in early-morning and latenight sales, as well as primetime sales.

With her promotion, Wang reports to Anne Sweeney, Disney/ABC Television Group prexy and Disney Media Networks co-chair.

Most recently senior VP of primetime sales for ABC, a position she held since 2000, Wang had been considered the frontrunner for the job. She replaces Mike Shaw, who announced in November that he was stepping down after 10 years as ABC’s top salesman.

Wang becomes the first female sales prexy in ABC’s history and the second at one of the Big Four networks, joining CBS’ JoAnn Ross.

“Geri has proven herself to be a fierce advocate for ABC, someone who understands the value of our network and who has developed the skills and relationships necessary to ensure that value is fully recognized by the marketplace,” Sweeney said.

Wang oversees sales and integrated marketing efforts for all ABC dayparts, including primetime, daytime, news, latenight, interactive and sales development. She also oversees Disney/ABC Unlimited and sales for cabler SoapNet.

“To be trusted with this stewardship is an incredible honor,” Wang said.

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