One of the titans of the TV ad industry is calling it a day. Discovery Communications' ad sales chief Joe Abruzzese will retire at the end of the year, capping 46 years in the industry, the last 14 of which he spent as Discovery's president of ad sales.
Ben Price will replace him as head of the U.S. ad sales division.
"When I started here in 2002, I thought I'd be here three years," Abruzzese told Adweek, laughing. "And it's been 14, because I fell in love with Discovery and the sales group."
Abruzzese said he is leaving now because "it's just time. I have a lot of things I want to do," mentioning his work on boards like the Family Reach Foundation, National Kidney Foundation of Greater New York and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
"Who knows what 2017 holds?" said Abruzzese, who ruled out another ad sales position. "If I wanted to have a big job, I'd stay right here."
"It's been a great career, and you want to end up leaving under your own power," said Abruzzese, noting that New York Yankees phenom Mickey Mantle ended his career in 1968 with a .299 batting average. "If he hadn't played the last three years, it would have been like .310. That's a big difference, because you always thought he was a .300 hitter. I'd rather walk out a .300 hitter."
"Joe has defined what it means to lead with integrity, has made clients into friends, built the best ad sales organization in the business—including our new leader Ben Price–and created fantastic value for Discovery and our shareholders," said David Zaslav, Discovery Communications' president and CEO, in a statement. "He is a great person, an incredible friend and on behalf of the Discovery leadership team, our board of directors and the entire Discovery family we say thank you, Joe. You are the gold standard."
Prior to his time at Discovery, Abruzzese was head of ad sales at CBS for 11 years, and also worked at NBC for 10 years.
When Abruzzese joined Discovery Communications in 2002, "cable was not as popular as broadcast. One of the goals we had was, how do we level-set TV? How do we get cable pricing up and compete with broadcast? Because in those days they'd say that broadcast was bought and cable was sold, and I think in 14 years, we've done a good job of level-setting TV. And that's helped the cable industry, and certainly helped Discovery," he said.
Price, who has been with Discovery for 27 years, most recently as evp of national ad sales, will take over as president of U.S. ad sales. While he currently splits his time between L.A. and New York, he'll now be based in N.Y. and will report to Paul Guyardo, chief commercial officer.
"I am honored to take this position," said Price in a statement. "Joe is an incredible leader, friend and mentor and I have been proud to work with him for the past 14 years. I look forward to continuing his legacy of providing the highest level of service to clients and value to the company, as well as to lead the best ad sales team in the business in creating exciting new opportunities for Discovery and our partners."
Price is "absolutely the perfect person for the job," said Abruzzese. "Ben and I are much alike. We're both outwardly-focused executives, meaning that they're still the clients, they have the money, and we have the inventory. At some point, you've got to make an exchange. Ben is very client-sensitive and very client-focused, and that's what I've always been."