Insights & Insanity: "12 For '12"

As pundits look back at the hits and misses across the media business in 2011, it’s time to cast ahead to the next 12 months. The past year has brought NBCUniversal under the control of Comcast; a successfully refashioned (winning?) “Two and a Half Men”; Unilever offering agencies the chance to win its massive media account; and sports leagues commanding virtual blank checks from networks.

Here’s a rundown of some of the people that should be part of 2012 year in review discussions as President Obama gets set for a second term, or Newt Gingrich would complete the greatest political comeback since Nixon’s fall and rise between 1960-68.

This month's “Insights & Insanity” brings a “12 for ’12.” It's by no means complete and comes in no particular order:

-CHARLIE COLLIER – From the Big Smooth to the Big Schmooze. In September, Variety’s Peter Bart tabbed George Clooney as Hollywood’s best at working a room. Collier topped the nominees for top schmoozer among TV executives, partly because he “nimbly navigates even quarrelsome agents.” Avoidance of that group is a tough job these days for the cordial Collier, head of the booming AMC network, with its list of drama smashes. Next year, “Mad Men” returns to the network. Collier is the heir apparent to Josh Sapan as chief of parent AMC Networks. Will he wait around?



-JACK KLUES – Reuters confirmed speculation last month that Klues might be a candidate to succeed CEO Maurice Levy atop the massive Publicis group. His ascension would serve as an affirmation just how important media has become to leading holding companies. Reuters said current Publicis COO Jean-Yves Naouri is the leading candidate, but Klues and Saatchi & Saatchi head Kevin Roberts could be in the mix to follow Levy. In the meantime, Klues will focus on continuing to grow VivaKi, the Publicis unit innovating with the likes of Digitas and Starcom MediaVest. Klues' thoughts about executive posts certainly will turn next year to Theo Epstein, who many are counting on to bring a World Series title to Klues' beloved Chicago Cubs.

-REED HASTINGS – The Netflix CEO faces the obvious challenge of trying to reverse the New Coke-like mistake, where price increases caused losses in customers, the stock price to tumble and near-term unprofitability. To a degree, Netflix has been a victim of its own success. Networks now know how much it needs content, which will make it more expensive to get it. Somewhat surprisingly, Hastings recently took a swing for the fences in naming HBO’s online streaming service as its top competitor. Netflix has touted its self-financed production “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey seemingly forever. It's now scheduled for late 2012. Popularity there will go a long way in determining what’s going to happen vis-à-vis HBO.

-TOM RUTLEGDE – Referred to by one analyst as the top executive in the cable industry, the departing Cablevision COO would seem to a top candidate to lead any media company. His contract apparently has a one-year non-compete clause, though that may have been negotiated away. His success at Cablevision has been enough that some are calling his departure a threat to the very future of the company. So, by default, that means there is considerable pressure on the CEO James Dolan to find an adequate successor at a time when Verizon is posing a significant challenge.

-PATRICK DINEEN – There is rising pressure on Nielsen to bolster its dominant currency by incorporating set-top-box (STB) data in local markets -- particularly those where pencil and paper are still used for diaries. Some of the impetus comes as competitor Rentrak continues to sign up stations – including via a new deal with Post-Newsweek – for its STB service. Nielsen has completed an STB trial and is moving towards a hybrid product that offers ratings culled from its traditional panel methods and STB information. Dineen told TVNewsCheck some version should be on the market in the latter half of next year (a deal to acquire data from DirecTV’s boxes should help). Station executives from Amarillo to Zanesville can’t wait.

-CHRISTINA AGUILERA – New NBC entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt said last spring that keeping “The Voice” thriving is a top priority for the network. Now, after a rougher start to the season than he may have expected, that becomes even more critical. Season two of the singing competition starts Super Bowl Sunday, which brings  considerable pressure on Aguilera and her fellow coaches/judges to prove last year's success was no fluke. That may be harder now, though, as “The X Factor” didn’t prove a huge success in the fall, leading to speculation that Americans have tired of so many singing battles.

-PAULY D – “Jersey Shore” remains hugely popular, but the drama each season is starting to feel the same. Perhaps MTV could benefit from giving viewers more time to miss it. Season five starts just after the New Year and the reports the first spin-off series, starring Pauly D, will launch after it wraps in March. Another is coming with Snooki and JWoww. Will there be a trace of “Jersey Shore” all year long?

-HENRY SCHLEIFF – Since he turned the focus of CourtTV away from the courts and into an entertainment network, he’s drawn interest in the cable industry. At Discovery Communications, he’s turned the ID network into a growth engine constantly touted by CEO David Zaslav. Now, comes the challenge of energizing Planet Green, which launched with the promise that viewers and advertisers were interested in environmentally friendly programming. Maybe the recession shifted their focus to another kind of green.

-TED WARD – The top marketing executive at Geico has to be a sports programmer’s best friend with his massive ad budget. It's nearly impossible to consume any kind of sports media without ads with the Gecko or other wacky Geico creative. If you miss a major sponsorship during NFL games, there’s always Major League Fishing on the Outdoor Channel.

-KATIE COURIC – With Jeff Zucker behind it, her syndicated show should do well when it launches next fall. Zucker has articulated a vision for her brand, which includes the ability to toggle between breaking news and celebrity interviews. Her new eponymous show might be described as a “Today” show spin-off. She will be launching in the fall with other daytime shows from Ricki Lake, Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst. She'll grab huge initial audiences and then, like CBS News where she failed, the challenge will be to keep a large percentage.

-WHITNEY CUMMINGS – She may be better behind the camera than in front. Still, how many get the chance to do both on network TV simultaneously? She’s one of the creators of CBS’s new breakout comedy “2 Broke Girls” and stars on NBC’s “Whitney.” The CBS show is a top-10 hit and seems destined for a long run. NBC’s “Whitney" might be gone come May. Wrote the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum about it: “A terrible show, though in ways that resonate with our culture’s debates about women and humor … while Cummings is lacerating and deadpan, her fictional avatar reminds me less of Roseanne, or even of (Sarah) Silverman, than of someone much older: Lucille Ball.” The fact the magazine has taken notice, though, says a lot and if “Whitney” fails, networks will probably call on her to develop more comedies.

-DONALD TRUMP – The man’s behavior has been laughable. His sham Presidential campaign had him distastefully reviving the birth certificate questions about Barack Obama. Having dropped out as a potential GOP candidate, he’s stoking the fire he may run as an independent. In or out, he will be getting votes from Americans early next year in the Nielsen polls when his “Celebrity Apprentice” returns. Are people too fed up to tune in?

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