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Fox Plans Media-Industry Summit to Fix Advertising Challenges (EXCLUSIVE)

Add Fox Networks Group to the list of TV companies trying to get Madison Avenue talking about major potholes in its road.

The unit of 21st Century Fox, controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family, will on March 1 convene a day-long, off-the-record meeting on the lot of the company’s 20th Century Fox studio. Invitees include major advertisers and ad buyers, Fox Networks executives and a handful of other top TV-ad salespeople, according to two people familiar with the matter. The idea, these people say, is to get the industry talking about ways to solve some of its biggest problems, such as devising a new financial model for high-quality video programming while viewers increasingly migrate to on-demand streaming opportunities.

Fox, which has agreed to sell a significant chunk of its assets to Walt Disney in a $52.4 billion deal, competes fiercely with everyone from CBS to NBCUniversal. But all the players in the entertainment sector have flailed about for months without finding much common ground against a looming threat: As fans of “This Is Us,” “9-1-1” and “The Big Bang Theory” gain the ability to watch their favorite shows on demand, media companies have yet to craft a universally accepted method to measure their growing activity.

The rivals are facing shared challenges, said one of the people familiar with the event. One big question posed at the summit might be whether the industry can come together to save longform ad-supported video – the kind that often comes in the form of TV comedies and dramas. The hope, according to an invitation currently making the rounds, is that the meeting will help “evolve the way storytellers and brands work together to build a sustainable advertising supported storytelling platform.”

Many of Fox’s top TV executives are expected to attend: Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox and CEO of Fox Networks Group; Dana Walden and Gary Newman, co-chairs and co-CEOs of Fox Television Group; John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks; Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks; and Joe Marchese, president of advertising revenue at Fox Networks Group. National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who recently moved “Thursday Night Football” to Fox Broadcasting in a five-year deal, will take part in a question-and-answer session. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBC Universal, and Charlie Collier, president and general manger of AMC and Sundance are also slated to participate.

The meeting shows that 21st Century Fox remains focused, for now, on its entire empire, not just the part it will keep should the Disney sale notch final approval from regulators. Should the sale be completed, the new Fox would consist largely of Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports. In the weeks ahead, however, Fox must sell advertising across all its assets. The industry is starting to turn its gaze to its annual “upfront” sales season, when U.S. TV network sell the bulk of their ad inventory. That market typically launches in the Spring.

Several efforts are already underway. One consortium of TV companies is mulling an effort that would help advertisers tie their commercials to something they have long demanded — tangible proof their TV ads result in the consumer who saw them making an actual purchase. Representatives from ABC, A&E Networks, AMC Networks, CBS, CW, ESPN, Viacom, Fox, Discovery Communications, Time Warner’s Turner, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Crown Media’s Hallmark, among others, are mulling the project.

Fox seems to be borrowing a tactic recently employed by NBCU. In November, the Comcast-backed entertainment conglomerate convened many of the industry’s top ad buyers and clients, luring them with talk of getting multiple leaders in the same room to hash out new ideas. “We’ve got a problem,” said Yaccarino at the meeting. “We can’t leave without a meaningful plan for action and follow-up.”

Even so, some attendees gave the conference mixed reviews. While they praised the idea of pressing ad sellers and buyers to work out new solutions, they suggested the format – full of panels centered on topics decided upon well in advance – didn’t help spark an immediate conversation.

Fox intends to have attendees talk with each other for most of the time, the people familiar with the event said. Fox will bring some guests to the event, including academics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, psychologists and even hackers to talk about online advertising fraud. But the main focus of the summit will be on getting people to engage with one another and determine challenges that are common to the media sector – and ways to overcome them.

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