Linda Yaccarino’s NBCUniversal Exit Leaves Ad Industry in Shock Ahead of Upfronts
“It ain’t good.”
That’s the reaction from one former television executive to advertising powerhouse Linda Yaccarino’s abrupt exit from NBCUniversal to become Twitter’s new CEO. It signals more turmoil for Comcast’s media arm, just three days before the company’s crucial upfronts presentation. On top of NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell’s recent ouster, the latest wave of corporate turmoil flooding 30 Rock feels like it’s straight out of an episode of “Succession.”
Twitter CEO Elon Musk surprised the industry Friday when he announced Yaccarino as his successor in the top role at the struggling social media company. Earlier that day, NBCUniversal said that Yaccarino would be stepping down as its chairman of global advertising and partnerships. It named Mark Marshall, a top ad-sales executive, Yaccarino’s successor on an interim basis.
Speculation about her jump to Twitter started Thursday after Musk tweeted about having found an unnamed female successor for Twitter CEO, followed by a report of talks between Musk and Yaccarino by the Wall Street Journal.
The announcement left the advertising community — in which Yaccarino has long been a towering figure — in bewilderment, with rumors swirling that she got $20 million to take the role. TheWrap could not verify that sum.
“I don’t get it. Why would she walk away from the influence of NBC?” an ad buyer for a top brand told TheWrap. “[There are] only a handful of people at the top of advertising: She is one of them.”
NBCUniversal Advertising Powerhouse Linda Yaccarino Exits to Serve as Twitter CEO
Former NBC Studios and UPN executive Tom Nunan told TheWrap that Yaccarino’s departure couldn’t come at a more challenging and tumultuous time for the media conglomerate.
“Not only are the upfronts turned upside down by the WGA strike, but with Yaccarino exiting on ‘upfront eve,’ as it were, there must be real tumult behind the scenes, and as a result of her horribly timed departure, possibly significant lost revenues,” he said. “Linda is an undeniable powerhouse, can pivot and optimize quickly and is just the kind of executive you want to lean on in these uncertain times, so it’s a massive hit to the company.”
Comcast’s domestic advertising revenue in its media segment dropped 38.8% year over year to $2.03 billion in the first quarter. Of course, that’s a tough comparison, since the first quarter of 2022 included the Beijing Olympics and the Super Bowl. Excluding those events, ad revenue decreased 6.1%. It’s the same story playing out across traditional media: Gains in streaming didn’t make up for losses in linear audience.
In that challenging ad-sales environment, Nunan noted that NBCUniversal is going through “seismic leadership changes” following the unexpected ouster of its former CEO Jeff Shell following his admission of an improper relationship with a NBCUniversal employee. Yaccarino was one of Shell’s direct reports who got a new boss, Comcast President Mike Cavanagh, when Shell departed.
“It’s unclear whether Yaccarino leaving signals greater turmoil than we’re aware of behind closed doors at NBCU, or if it’s just a coincidence,” Nunan added. “Either way, it ain’t good.”
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In a news release announcing her departure, Yaccarino said it has been “an absolute honor to be part of Comcast NBCUniversal and lead the most incredible team.”
“We’ve transformed our company and the entire industry — and I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and grateful to my colleagues and mentors, especially Brian Roberts, Mike Cavanagh and the entire NBCU leadership team,” she added.
Since she joined NBCUniversal in 2011, Yaccarino’s team has generated more than $100 billion in ad sales, expanded the company’s reach globally and helped launch Peacock. More recently, she was gearing up to take a new, unified ad-selling approach to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Cavanagh praised Yaccarino for her “countless contributions to the company during her twelve year tenure.”
“We wish her the best,” he added.
NBCUniversal is well positioned in the long run, largely thanks to the leadership that Yaccarino provided, said Brad Geving, a senior vice president of media at the data-driven advertising firm Tatari.
“She has long been at the forefront of streaming advertising and improved measurement capabilities, giving NBCU a firm foundation to move into the future of TV advertising in all its forms,” he told TheWrap. “I think Linda may see Twitter as a chance to take on a history-making role building on the success she had with NBC.”
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Mark Marshall, president of NBCUniversal advertising sales and client partnerships, will become interim chairman of the company’s advertising and partnerships group. He joined NBCUniversal in 2018 after a long tenure at Turner Broadcasting. Instead of reporting directly to Cavanagh, he’ll report to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. Sources told TheWrap that both Lazarus and Marshall will participate in Monday’s upfront, with the former opening the presentation and the latter closing it.
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In a tweet on Friday, Elon Musk officially announced Yaccarino would serve as Twitter’s CEO, focusing primarily on business operations. Meanwhile, the billionaire said he would transition to the role of executive chairman and chief technology officer, focusing on “product design and new technology.”
“Looking forward to working with Linda to transform this platform into X, the everything app,” Musk added. Twitter recently changed its corporate name to X, according to company filings. X is a business name Musk has long used, including for a predecessor of PayPal. He’s suggested he wants to broaden the functions of Twitter into commerce and payments.
I am excited to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter!@LindaYacc will focus primarily on business operations, while I focus on product design & new technology.
Looking forward to working with Linda to transform this platform into X, the everything app. https://t.co/TiSJtTWuky
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2023
Yaccarino, who will start at the social media giant in about six weeks, is certainly no stranger to Musk. In April, she interviewed him at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Possible Event in Miami, where she emphasized that advertisers need to feel part of Musk’s overall vision for the service.
The NEW CEO Of Twitter?
Linda Yaccarino, a potential new CEO for Twitter, is an executive at NBC Universal and holds a position at the World Economic Forum.
Last month, during an interview with Elon, Yaccarino encouraged him to allow advertisers to have influence on the… pic.twitter.com/zaTBDlJRbr
— Mario Nawfal (@MarioNawfal) May 12, 2023
Stefano Bonini, a corporate governance expert and associate professor of finance at Stevens Institute of Technology, told TheWrap that Yaccarino’s hiring makes sense at a time when advertisers are leaving Twitter in droves.
“She knows what to do, she can provide to advertisers the type of confidence and continuity of the business and stability of the business,” he said. That is exactly what advertisers that have paused investing or reduced investing on Twitter are looking for to resume their spend.”
While Bonini acknowledged that Yaccarino aligning with Musk comes with its own reputational risks, he believes they are calculated ones. He said she had the “business acumen” to manage any downside.
MeWe founder Mark Weinstein added that Yaccarino’s hiring is a “wise choice to try to shore up ad revenues” but warned TheWrap that her hire “signals to Twitter users that its surveillance capitalist business model is going to be more robust in its data gathering and targeting than ever before.”
Already, some Twitter users, particularly conservative ones attracted to the service by Musk’s promises to accommodate a broader range of speech, have expressed alarm over Yaccarino’s participation in a World Economic Forum task force.
“Time will tell if Ms. Yaccarino can successfully turn Twitter’s revenue ship around, or if its users will be heading instead to founder Jack Dorsey’s decentralized initiative, Bluesky,” Weinstein added.
A spokesperson for Musk did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on Yaccarino’s hire.
Sharon Waxman and Loree Seitz contributed to this report
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