With mere days to go before the nation’s biggest TV networks pitch their new programs to Madison Avenue, 21st Century Fox has named a new ad-sales chief for its massive Fox Networks Group, capping a prolonged search process that had commenced in the fall of last year and had been the subject of much fascination among advertising executives.
Joe Marchese, who has worked within 21st Century Fox to develop ways of pitching commercials in new distribution venues, such as video on demand, will take on the role of president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group. In doing so, Marchese will supervise not only ad sales related to Fox Broadcasting, the company’s FX suite of cable networks, National Geographic and Fox Sports 1, but also advertising research and the development of new ad products. Earlier this week, 21st Century Fox named Marianne Gambelli, a former NBC ad-sales executive, to supervise ad-sales efforts for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.
“This is the start of the hard work,” said Marchese in an interview, indicating that he was eager to come up with new ideas for advertisers at a time when technology has made the act of avoiding or ignoring traditional TV commercials much easier. “We are going to see a new model” of advertising put into place around video content, he said.
When Fox takes the stage at New York’s Beacon Theater on Monday afternoon to unveil its fall schedule, part of the TV industry’s annual “upfront” ad-sales market, Marchese expects to speak to attendees about the fact that the company has been trimming the number of commercials it shows during linear TV broadcasts. He will discuss “Open A.P.,” a joint system Fox Networks is operating with Viacom and Time Warner’s Turner that lets advertisers buy ads against narrower consumer demographics across multiple media outlets. And he suggested he is likely to spotlight a new third-party measurement deal that will offer sponsors an alternative way of vetting the effectiveness of their pitches.
“We can bake a better advertising product that makes the ads shine more,” said Marchese, whose ascension to the role is likely to surprise the ad community. As recently as Tuesday night, executives at rival media companies and media-buying agencies fully expected Fox to enter this year’s “upfront” market without an ad-sales chief in place.
Like other TV companies, Fox faces new challenges sparked by the rise of streaming video and mobile tablets. Marchese will – in his debut in his new role – have to make a case for advertisers to increase their spend with the networks he represents, and also explain why Fox, FX and the rest offer a better environment than those being spotlighted next week by broadcast and cable rivals – not to mention digital companies like YouTube making a play for video dollars. During the “upfront,” TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming cycle and vie for billions of dollars in advertising.
Marchese joined Fox in December of 2014 when 21st Century Fox acquired his company, TrueX, for approximately $200 million. He is said to enjoy a good working relationship with James Murdoch, the 21st Century Fox CEO who shares his vision of a media industry that finds new ways to weave commercials together with content. “We work so hard to create suspension of disbelief, and then interrupt it to sell Bounty,” Murdoch lamented during a Vanity Fair conference in 2015.
At TrueX, Marchese and his team developed a product that allows digital-video users to choose to interact with a brief full-screen ad that typically offers an enticement or reward in exchange for the time granted to watch it, rather than having to endure the usual buffet of TV commercials that interrupt the content. In public appearances, Marchese often talks of how advertisers need to win consumers’ attention, rather than stealing it with old-school ad pitches that disrupt a content experience.
“Joe is an industry leader who has accelerated the transformation of our sales organization into a modern creative group with exceptional capabilities in the areas of data, digital revenue, user experience and branded content creation,” said Randy Freer, president and chief operating officer of Fox Networks Group, in a prepared statement.
Fox Networks has been without an ad-sales chief since September, when the company parted ways with Toby Byrne. The company was eager to find an advertising guru who focuses less on TV ratings and more on bigger alliances and partnerships. Michael Kassan, the chief executive of MediaLink, a strategic advisory firm that had been overseeing the search process, said in an interview last month.
Industry rivals and media buyers watched the process with amusement as rumors surfaced about potential candidates. Marchese has been in the running all along, but the company also considered tapping an outsider – a break with past history. Jon Nesvig, who ran Fox Broadcasting ad sales for many years, enjoyed close access to 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, who defied convention and skepticism by launching a fourth broadcast network in the mid-1980s. Byrne, a longtime senior ad-sales executive at Fox, succeeded Nesvig in 2011.
Marchese inherits an operation that has been re-organized to deal with new advertiser demands. Byrne had helped set in place a new unified sales team that did deals for digital, cable and broadcast inventory; pushed for more agreements based on a seven-day viewing window; and unveiled an eyebrow-raising pact with Pepsi that put the soda giant into a plot line over three episodes of the hit drama “Empire.”
Marchese was said to have discussed the job in past months, but was eager to continue his role with TrueX, and secure other conditions for himself, according to several people familiar with the company’s search. Asked why Fox took such a long time to name him, Marchese said, “It’s a big organization and a very big job. There is a process to go through.”