Jo Ann Ross Will Take Ad-Sales Chairman Role at Paramount While John Halley is Elevated

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Jo Ann Ross, the TV industry’s first female ad-sales chief, will take a new chairman role at Paramount Global, while John Halley will take on the position of president, overseeing U.S. sales — a major transition at the media company that aims to merge Ross’ close contact with clients with Halley’s expertise in new forms of digital advertising.

Halley will report directly to Paramount Global’s CEO, Bob Bakish, while Ross will “provide her expertise and experience in a strategic advisory role to ensure a smooth transition,” the company said in a statement.

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Ross has been a trailblazer in the TV industry, taking over ad sales for the former CBS Corp. after the departure of Joe Abruzzese in 2002, when he exited to join Discovery Communications. Since that time, Ross has formed one of the most durable ad-sales teams in TV, with executives like Chris Simon, John Bogusz, Linda Rene and Joe Mina staying with her for years. That team is expected to stay at the company at present, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Halley, who joined the former Viacom Inc. in 2007, has helped orchestrate many of the company’s efforts to accommodate new forms of TV advertising. He has supervised a growing effort to sell ad inventory based on consumer data, as well as an initiative to sell so-called “addressable” commercials on the CBS broadcast network that are sent only to a subset of the overall audience. He has also been an instrumental part of Open AP, an industry consortium that aims to help advertisers create defined audience segments that hold across different media companies. Halley serves as chairman of that operation.

Ross joined CBS in 1992 as vice president of Olympic sales, and eventually rose to become the longest-tenured sales head in broadcast TV. During her tenure, CBS opened some of TV’s most popular programs to advertisers in new ways, including product integrations that weren’t always welcome in past eras. It was Ross’ team that managed to develop an episode of “60 Minutes” that had no national commercials and more time for stories, thanks to a sponsorship with Philips Electronics; create a “green room” for “CBS This Morning” backed by Toyota; inject Microsoft and Toyota into “Under The Dome,” a sci-fi drama about a town cut off from the rest of the world; and team up with Stephen Colbert to welcome advertisers into in-show segments on “The Late Show.”

The team faced unique challenges as well, such as the time power went out at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2013 during CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII. The network had to run one block of commercials twice to help fill time. In another bizarre incident, Ross and her team had to contend with a demands for ad money to be returned by Levi’s and CareerBuilder when the network ran their commercials back to back during Super Bowl XLIV, even though they both featured the same theme of men walking around without pants. Both companies asked for so-called “make goods,” or extra ad time, to make up for the chance that viewers would not recall which commercial was from which advertiser.

But the process of TV ad-sales has grown exponentially more complex since those days. Marketers are demanding tailored solutions that allow them to place commercial messages more precisely, aiming to reach the audiences most likely to be interested in their products. As more consumers turn to streaming, media companies like Paramount have been pressed to devise new offerings that reach viewers who often expect to see fewer commercials than they do on TV — and sometimes none.

Halley will be charged not only with managing ad sales for CBS and cable networks like Nickelodeon and MTV — still a lucrative business — but with working up plans to utilize the ad-supported version of Paramount Plus and Pluto, the company’s free ad-supported streaming vehicle.

He will no doubt also be instrumental in a widening industry effort to find new ways to measure video audiences who have developed new habits thanks to the widening availability of streaming. “It’s going to require that all our deals get re-based,” he told Variety in May about Nielsen’s work to create a new standard for video viewership . Rather than waiting for Nielsen to implement its new technology in full, he added, networks felt “a lot of urgency to understand what the other options are.”

More to come….

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