Disney just unveiled plans to revamp its ad sales operation, combining all broadcast, cable network, and digital teams — except for ESPN’s — into a new organization led by Rita Ferro, President of Sales for Disney-ABC.

The change, ahead of the upfront sales season, will create “a one-stop shop for our advertising clients,” says Ben Sherwood, who co-chairs the Disney Media Networks and is president of the Disney-ABC Television Group.

RITA FERRO
Disney-ABC

It also follows last month’s announcement by ABC Sales President Geri Wang that she will retire next month after a 27-year run at the network.

Others including NBCUniversal, Fox, and Turner have made similar moves to help buyers do business with them as the industry becomes more complicated. In addition to traditional broadcast and cable ads, Disney sells access to its digital and radio platforms.

Ferro’s operation will handle “all advertising sales functions and ad revenue-generation strategies for the company’s domestic entertainment, news and kids linear and digital TV and radio businesses,” the company says.

The change will enable Disney to speak to advertisers “in one voice,” she says. For example, to someone trying to reach millennials, “having one sales organization that can represent that opportunity is going to be much more simplistic…and potentially deliver a solution that’s much more effective in how it speaks to that audience.”

ESPN isn’t part of the change because “we needed to get our own house in order first,” Ferro says. “We had three sales organizations across the portfolio.”

Networks will still make separate presentations to advertisers for this year’s upfront market. “We have people who’ve been working on them for some months now, and there’s a lot of momentum,” Ferro says.

But the change “will allow us to come together as part of the dealmaking part of the upfronts.”

Ferro will report to Disney-ABC Television Business Operations President Bruce Rosenblum. He calls her “a smart, strategic leader who works collaboratively with clients and internal partners, and has created innovative advertising and sponsorship opportunities across our portfolio of Disney-branded media offerings.”

Ferro had been EVP of Disney Media Sales and Marketing for Disney Channels Worldwide since mid-2010. Before that, she worked at Disney Latin America, rising to VP of Advertising Sales.

Three teams will report to her under the new ad sales structure:

Brand, Revenue & Yield Management will develop strategies to “optimize and manage business opportunities across the portfolio,” the company says. It will be run by Debbie Richman who was promoted to EVP from her previous job as SVP of Primetime Sales, ABC.

Client & Audience Solutions will harness data supporting “specialized client & category-specific strategies and opportunities across the portfolio’s platforms.” EVP Laura Nathanson will manage this unit, moving from her job as EVP of Sales and Marketing, Freeform.

And Sales and Marketing will be in charge of creative storytelling to “maximize linear and digital agency advertising opportunities across Disney-ABC” with “a full service in-house creative agency with the ability to create branded entertainment and deploy big ideas for clients across programming assets.” EVP Debra O’Connell takes on this responsibility, moving from President, National TV Sales, ABC Owned Stations Group.

The changes come at a challenging time for media advertising, including Disney’s. Broadcast sales in the last three months of 2016 were flat as declining ratings at ABC offset the boost company-owned stations saw from political ads, Disney reported yesterday. Sales also dropped at the cable networks, partly due to a 7% slid at ESPN which had fewer college football playoff games in the quarter than it did at the end of 2015.