Ben Price, the ad-sales executive who rose to oversee all of Discovery Communications U.S. ad sales as part of a 25-plus-year career, will step down from his post, the latest change at the large media company in the wake of its recent merger with Scripps Networks.
“Following a remarkable 28-year career at Discovery, Ben Price has decided to leave the company at the conclusion of the upcoming Upfront selling season. Ben has been instrumental in building Discovery’s strong reputation in the marketplace with clients and agency partners, securing major ad sales agreements across all of our brands, and mentoring and developing hundreds of ad sales executives in his nearly 30 years with the company,” said Discovery CEO David Zaslav in a recent memo to staffers. “Most importantly, Ben is a class act…one of the most trusted and well-regarded ad sales executives in the business and one of the most beloved longstanding leaders at our company.”
When Discovery completed its nearly $12 billion buy of Scripps in March, forming a new company known as Discovery Inc., Jon Steinlauf, the Scripps ad-sales chief, was given the role of chief U.S. advertising sales officer, and Price reported to him. In an interview, Price said he “decided to resign a few weeks ago,” and seek other opportunities closer to his family in California. Price has for the past few years worked out of of New York while his family stayed on the U.S. west coast. He will remain with Discovery until the company completes its ad sales in the industry’s annual “upfront,” when U.S. TV outlets work to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming program cycle.
“I’m looking forward to working with Jon to helping the team through its first joint upfront selling season, and then also facilitating a transition with the team,” Price said. “Our business has evolved, and there are a lot of intriguing opportunities out there.”
When Price first joined the company, it was known best for its flagship network, Discovery Channel. Over the years, however, he has worked to connect advertisers to a broader range of the company’s cable networks. He helped develop an event that aligned the 20th Century Fox movie “Ice Age” with both Discovery Channel and Animal Planet; connected Red Lobster with the signature series “Deadliest Catch”; and saw home-improvement retailer Lowe’s woven into both the original launch of the TLC series “Trading Spaces” as well as its 2018 reboot.
His departure is the most recent in a series of senior executive changes among the company’s ad-sales staff. Price succeeded Joseph Abruzzese in July of 2016. Scott Felenstein, another senior Discovery ad-sales executive, left the company in April of last year. Sharon O’Sullivan, an executive vice president who had been with Discovery since 1999, left the company in early 2017. And Paul Guyardo, who had been named the company’s chief commercial officer in 2015, a new role that oversaw ad sales, left Discovery late last year in advance of the merger. Price said the company has many veteran sales executives who remain active among its ranks. “We have put together a pretty strong ad-sales organization over the last several years,” he said.
Discovery faces a unique challenge in the upfront. Media buyers and other TV-ad executives note that Scripps programming has long been able to command higher pricing from sponsors, owing to the narrower focus of outlets like HGTV and Food Network, which often attract a core of endemic advertisers interested in food and home improvement. Now, these executives suggest, the company is trying to extend that pricing to content on the various Discovery cable networks, which typically attract a wider array of general-market advertisers.