WarnerMedia Revamps Ad Staff, Donna Speciale Departs

Now with upfront negotiations concluded for WarnerMedia’s ad-supported TV networks -- TNT, TBS, and CNN among them -- the AT&T unit is making some dramatic changes to its senior advertising executive staff.

Longtime ad executive Donna Speciale, president of advertising sales of WarnerMedia, is departing. Replacing Speciale as interim president will be Gerhard Zeiler, CRO at WarnerMedia. Zeiler oversees TV affiliates and the advertising sales group.

In a memo to staffers, Zeiler wrote: “It was obvious that everyone understands how much the industry is transforming and we need to change to enable us to stay at the top and lead the industry.”

Zeiler will be working with an “operational team” -- existing Turner networks ad sales executives.

They include Amit Chaturvedi, who will head revenue operations, ad innovation, ad product strategy, digital sales planning and digital yield management. Katrina Cukaj will head linear strategic planning, research, network partnerships and marketplace image and experience.

Joe Hogan will lead sales, including agency, client, digital, direct response and content partnerships.

At Turner, Chaturvedi had been executive vice president, revenue operations and product management. Cukaj and Hogan each held the title of executive vice president, portfolio sales and client partnerships.

In addition to Speciale, two Turner executive vice presidents are departing: Dan Riess, executive vice president of Turner Ignite and Frank Sgrizzi, executive vice president, portfolio sales and client partnerships.

These big executive changes -- as well as leaving OpenAP -- occur as WarnerMedia’s sister advertising unit, AT&T’s advanced advertising unit Xandr, continues to gain influence at the company. It looks to push pricier addressable advertising and data-based advertising deals for TV marketers.

Just about a week ago, WarnerMedia completed its upfront TV negotiations for the 2019-2020 TV season, posting double-digit percentage cost-per-thousand viewer increases.

A company representative did not disclose specifics on the upfront volume from Turner networks, or sell-out inventory levels — only that WarnerMedia was “maintaining spend in linear” TV.

Riess was part of the original executive team launching the advanced advertising industry consortium OpenAP in 2017. Earlier this year, WarnerMedia said it would be leaving OpenAP. Sgrizzi managed WarnerMedia’s sales relationships with advertising agencies across the company’s portfolio.

Speciale has been at Turner since February 2012. Before joining Turner, she was president of investment and activation and agency operations for MediaVest Worldwide. Prior to that, Speciale led the broadcast investment team at Mediacom.

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