New York -- National Cable Communications is starting the
new year with a new management hierarchy, as Thomas Olson was named the spot-cable rep
firm's new CEO, succeeding John Sawhill, who becomes president and chief operating
Initial feedback from the ad-agency community last week was
Before moving over to NCC last week, Olson had spent the
last four years of his 23-year Katz Media Group Inc. career as that company's CEO and
as managing director of the NCC partnership.
That partnership structure was altered this past fall, when
Tele-Communications Inc. joined as an equal partner with Katz and the four original MSO
partners (Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cable Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc.,
MediaOne Group Inc. and Time Warner Cable). Prior to that, Katz held a 50 percent share,
with the original four MSOs splitting the other half.
Katz Media spokeswomen said last week that Sawhill's
promotion to CEO from COO in January 1998 had been considered an "interim" move.
However, at that time, Sawhill -- who was then listed as executive vice president -- said
there were no plans for a COO successor. Until then, the CEO title had been vacant since
Robert Williams left NCC as president and CEO in 1997.
Roughly a year ago, Olson praised Sawhill's role in
NCC's strong ad-sales results as a key reason behind his promotion. Last week, Olson
again lauded Sawhill's leadership role, adding that Sawhill will focus on day-to-day
NCC's spot sales, up 45 percent in the third quarter,
should close the books on 1998 with a hefty 50 percent increase, Sawhill said, citing
political, entertainment and restaurants/fast foods as the hottest categories.
Political alone accounted for "just under 10
percent" of NCC's sales in 1998, he said, but automotive, which was up 30
percent, remained the rep firm's No. 1 category.
To offset the loss of National Basketball Association
avails on Turner Network Television, Sawhill said, NCC has been doing "a better
job" pitching other cable networks with strong male demographic profiles.
The NBA player lockout, which was resolved last week,
"has been a problem [in cities] where there is an NBA franchise, such as Chicago --
where we also manage the interconnect," he said. "In other markets, it's
not that big a deal."
As for his own new role at NCC, Olson explained that the
reorganization was "inspired by the desire of the partners to be sure that the
expanding NCC remains focused on doing a terrific job - and, at the same time, [that
it] introduces someone at a key executive level to focus on future potential."
The latter specifically involves "targeted
television," as the MSOs continue to roll out their digital-cable set-top boxes, he
Like Adlink (the Los Angeles interconnect) and TCI, NCC
will increasingly emphasize to clients spot cable's "ability to provide targeted
delivery - to their potential customers."
Olson added that targeted cable adds the "emotional
impact of an electronic message" to its direct-mail-like "pinpoint
One new aspect of his role is the formation of a new
marketing team within NCC relating to the company's partners' desire to
capitalize on digital cable.
Although NCC will eventually be divided into spot-sales and
marketing arms, each with its own management, Olson stressed that this step is not
John Porcarelli, COO at MediaCom, Grey Worldwide's
new-media spinoff, lauded Sawhill as "a very hands-on guy" who is eager to
tackle clients' specific needs, while Alec Gerster, MediaCom's chairman, praised
Olson as "a very sharp guy who's been in the business for a long time."
Porcarelli, who was heavily involved in the Kraft Foods/TCI
addressable-advertising initiative, felt that it will be good to have Olson "very
focused on an area of enormous potential," albeit one that's not quite there
When asked about the realignment, another ad executive, who
did not want to be named, said, "It's more what does [Sawhill] think about that
than what do I think."
In other developments, Sawhill said NCC:
Won't repeat its multiple-market spot-cable
presentation tour in 1999. Instead, NCC will host a single "major get-together"
for the largest advertisers and ad agencies.
Moreover, NCC plans to invite "25 or 30" key
agencies and clients to the National Show and Western Show. Besides hosting meetings at
those cable shows, NCC will invite ad executives to tour the exhibit floor, where they can
see firsthand that "cable is not the mom-and-pop industry that it used to be."
Will continue to explore syndicated programming for
operators' local-origination channels as an alternate way to generate more local
Sawhill -- who said he will spend a day at the National
Association of Television Programming Executives' syndication convention later this
month -- observed, "Interest [in this strategy] varies system-by-system, not just