In an era when gargantuan media conglomerates hope to tempt advertisers into buying tons of commercials across many networks, streaming outlets and digital sites, Marianne Gambelli has come to appreciate the art of staying small.
The executive, president of ad sales for Fox Corp., says in an interview that she believes the company will stand apart in the TV industry’s looming “upfront” sales session by not pressing potential sponsors to snap up commercial inventory in multiple venues. Want to buy an ad in a Fox Sunday NFL broadcast without having to load up on commercial avails at Tubi? Gambelli says staffers are willing to accomodate.
Her remarks show Fox zigging in a different direction than its competitors. NBCUniversal, Disney, Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery are all built on the premise that their bigger portfolios of media assets will super-serve advertisers by giving them all the media they might want, all under one corporate roof.
Or so they think. “What I’m hearing is that agencies are very frustrated with this macro approach, because it has gotten too complex,” says Gambelli. “I don’t think they know where their dollars are landing. I don’t think they feel they are getting the value. Sellers aren’t seeing the full value of their portfolio because they are amalgamating it up into one offering.”
At Fox, she says, Fox Sports knows what a sports sponsor wants, and Tubi understands how to put clients around streaming content in a meaningful way. But shoving an advertiser primarily interested in Major League Baseball or “The Accused” into a flight of ads on Fox News Channel may not work as the best strategy. Of course, if an advertiser wants to buy across the company, says Gambelli, Fox will do so.
“Clients are looking for more visibility. They want more understanding of where their ads are running. They want to know what content they are in,” Gambelli says. “I think clients are starting to push back and starting to pay more attention to environments.”
Fox has reason to sweat the small stuff. Since selling off its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. in 2019, the company has been a much slimmer entity. Gone are the days when a big 20th Century Fox blockbuster could absorb losses from newspapers or other traditional businesses. In 2023, Fox Corp. runs runs primarily on the cash flow generated by Fox News Channel.
And the company has new impetus to monetize its assets. Fox recently agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation lawsuit levied by voting technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which alleged Fox News personalities knowingly passed along false theories about Dominion’s role in the 2020 presidential election. Fox faces a similar lawsuit in 2025 from another ballot technology firm. Smartmatic, which Fox has vowed to contest. On Tuesday, costs related to the Dominion suit wiped out all of the profit from Fox’s third fiscal quarter, even though the company had generated massive ad revenue from its recent broadcast of Super Bowl LVII.
Fox News Channel can pose a challenge. It’s well known in the industry that a certain swath of advertisers don’t want to have their commercials show up in single-host opinion programs. Gambelli notes that Fox has built out more “lifestyle” content at Fox News that has less to do with politics and focuses more on other topics. Some documentary programming from the Fox Nation streaming service runs on weekends on Fox News, which has also built out a suite of panel shows that aren’t overly reliant on a single personality.
Yet Fox may have new influence as the upfront, an annual sales session during which U.S. networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory, approaches. With a writers strike expected to last several months, Fox’s focus on live sports and news programming could serve it well. Advertisers know these types of programs are likely to turn up on air, while the outlook for new scripted entertainment will get more foggy the longer writers and the studios remain at loggerheads. Most Fox programming, Gambelli says, “won’t be affected.” The company’s broadcast network recently unveiled a bid to lure ad dollars from food and travel marketers with a suite of programs from reality-competition star Gordon Ramsay.
Gambelli’s longevity in the business may also lend her stature. She spent 22 years at NBC, eventually rising to oversee ad sales for NBC and all assets related to the broadcast network. Gambelli was in charge, for example, when NBC agreed to weave a Chrysler vehicle into “The Apprentice” in 2004. She has also worked as the chief investment officer for the independent media agency Horizon Media, and few sales heads have her breadth of experience (TelevisaUnivision’s Donna Speciale has similar tenures on both the sales and buy sides of the business).
The executive is preparing to say more to Madison Avenue next week at Fox’s upfront showcase on Monday, but hopes clients will remember that “we do have this very surgical approach.”
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