Along with Speciale, Dan Riess and Frank Sgrizzi are also departing, according to a memo sent late Wednesday by WarnerMedia’s Chief Revenue Officer, Gerhard Zeiler. Riess was EVP of Ignite, a content and data solutions-based team, and launched brand content studios like Courageous and Ignite Studios.
Sgrizzi was EVP of portfolio sales and client partnerships for WarnerMedia Ad Sales.
Speciale, who had been at 2012, was a key lieutenant to David Levy, who himself departed as head of Turner earlier this year. Levy’s former Turner turf has since been carved up and allocated to executives including Jeff Zucker and Bob Greenblatt. In 2014, Speciale was promoted to head of sales at Turner and then all of WarnerMedia. In May, she appeared at the company’s upfront pitch to advertisers at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.
The company’s ambitious bet on direct-to-consumer streaming, dubbed HBO Max, will have an ad-supported version rolling out along with a subscription one. The company has not offered any details about pricing, distribution or ad-load plans for the AVOD offering.
The moves followed the completion last week of WarnerMedia upfront ad sales process. The changes in the former Turner ranks come as the broader company is also seeing dramatic transformation. Earlier this year, Richard Plepler exited as head of HBO after a 27-year run, and Kevin Tsujihara left as Warner Bros. CEO after 25 years at the studio.
Speciale, along with other sell-side executives like NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino, blazed a trail as a female executive in a male-dominated sector. Before Turner, Speciale had a long run on the agency side, most recently at MediaVest.
With the full backing of Levy, who had recruited her to Turner, Speciale spearheaded several innovative initiatives during her tenure, including OpenAP, the data-sharing coalition started in 2017 by Viacom, Fox and Turner. The notion of rival companies drawing from a common pool of sales intelligence went against the grain, but the When AT&T’s $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner finally escaped legal challenge by the government in February of this year, the parent company’s newly minted Xandr ad unit gained a more prominent role in the company. WarnerMedia formally withdrew from OpenAP in April. NBCUniversal and Univision are now part of OpenAP, along with Fox and Viacom.
Here is the full text of Zeiler’s memo to employees:
The last few months have provided a real opportunity for me to dive deeply into our businesses.
In all of the conversations I had, formal or informal, it was obvious that everyone understands how much the industry is transforming and that we need to change to enable us to stay at the top and lead the industry.
After a thoughtful review, I concluded that we also need to change the leadership structure to support the transition of our ad sales business. For the time being, I will lead ad sales as interim president, working with a three-person operational team with significant experience across portions of ad sales:
- Amit Chaturvedi leads Revenue Operations, Ad Innovation, Ad Product strategy, Digital Sales Planning and Digital Yield Management
- Katrina Cukaj leads linear Strategic Planning, Research, Network Partnerships and Marketplace Image & Experience
- Joe Hogan leads Sales including Agency, Client, Digital, Direct Response and Content Partnerships
Donna Speciale, Dan Riess and Frank Sgrizzi will be leaving the company.
First and foremost, I want to thank Donna for her leadership and dedication. Over the course of the recent seven plus years, she has invested in building out our award-winning advanced ad and storytelling capabilities for our advertising partners, transforming the way we do business today.
Also, I want to thank Dan and Frank for their commitment and important contributions in making Turner an industry leader during their long tenures at the company, 21 and 28 years respectively.
This is a significant reorganization and I understand that it is difficult to see our colleagues moving on. I thank all of them wholeheartedly for their contributions and wish them all the best for the future.
Let me take the opportunity to thank all of you once more for your patience, dedication, and focus on our everyday business during times of uncertainty.
I know that change can be challenging. But remember: Change is also an opportunity, and our ambition is big. We are strengthening our core business, driving new revenue streams, and reshaping the corporate structure – all at the same time.
None of this would be possible without your support, passion and hard work. Thank you for that!