Sr. marketing veep will ankle USA net

Exec blamed for recent drop in Nielsen ratings

NEW YORK — Barry Diller’s USA Network is beating the bushes for a new head of marketing. That’s the word from insiders, who say that USA’s current senior VP of marketing, Mary Ellen Holden, 43, will ankle her post in the next two months.

USA declined comment on the personnel shift, and Holden was unavailable for comment.

Some sources said USA has dismissed Holden, treating her, in part, as a sacrificial lamb for the network’s recent drop in the Nielsen ratings.

Although USA finished first overall among all ad-supported cable networks in primetime for calendar 1999, it has shown some audience erosion over the last few months. In November, for example, USA fell 13% in the primetime Nielsen ratings among cable homes compared with the same month a year ago. In October, USA dropped 5% year-to-year.

Particularly troubling to USA is the plunge in ratings for the network’s lineup of heavily promoted firstrun hours on Sunday such as “La Femme Nikita,” “Pacific Blue” and “G vs. E.”

Pursuing growth

But another source familiar with the situation said that Holden, who has worked at USA since 1996, is leaving of her own accord.

Holden is looking to expand her marketing responsibilities beyond cable, into newer areas such as Web sites, e-commerce companies and interactive TV, according to this source. One of her duties at USA is to serve as head of the cross-promotional committee, encompassing not only USA and the Sci-Fi Channel but also the USA-owned TV stations, the Studios USA production facility, the theatrical-movie distributor USA Films, Ticketmaster, the Home Shopping Network, USA Home Entertainment and the City Search Web site.

The USA Network’s marketing efforts in recent months have taken a back seat to the highly praised strategies of its sister Sci-Fi Channel. Holden is not involved in the Sci-Fi blueprints, which are under the direction of Josh Greenburg, VP of marketing for Sci-Fi.

Yearlong reign

Holden got promoted from VP and brand manager of USA to senior VP in November 1998. Before joining USA, she was VP of consumer products and new-business promotions for Nickelodeon.

Previously, Holden served two years as director of worldwide marketing for Jim Henson Prods. and was VP of sales for Marketing Entertainment Group of America, VP of sales promotion and event marketing for Hamilton Projects Inc./Hanna-Barbera Prods. and management supervisor for HMG sports, events and licensing.

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