May 11, 2023
Twitter taps NBC ad chief to take over as CEO from Elon Musk
Musk must start changing Tesla's direction or this situation will get even worse: Dan Ives
NBCUniversal advertising chief Linda Yaccarino is taking the helm at Twitter, where she will confront an exodus of marketers who’ve left the social-media platform since Elon Musk took over.
NBCUniversal announced her departure on Friday morning, effective immediately. The move sets the stage for her to join Twitter as chief executive officer, said a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Without naming Yaccarino, Musk said in a tweet on Thursday that he had chosen a new CEO who would begin in six weeks and that he is shifting into the role of chief technologist at the company.
Yaccarino may be in a unique position to deal with the fallout from Musk’s takeover of Twitter last year. Despite a slight uptick in daily users since early 2022, Twitter’s revenue has fallen by 50 per cent since October as a result of a “massive decline” in advertising, Musk said in March. At NBC, Yaccarino helped launch the ad-supported streaming service Peacock and has led partnerships with a variety of tech companies, including Snapchat, YouTube, and, of course, Twitter.
“She’s probably just what Elon needs to establish trust among advertisers,” said Martin Sorrell, chairman of S4Capital Plc and former CEO of WPP Plc. “She’s going to have to do something to make sure that everything is hunky-dory from an operations standpoint.”
Musk bought Twitter for us$44 billion last October and indicated that he’d only be in charge for a limited time to complete the organizational overhaul he thought the company needed to prosper. In December, Musk asked his Twitter followers if he should step down as CEO, and 57.5 per cent said yes. The billionaire said he will remain executive chairman after the transition.
As the CEO also of of Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Musk complained of having “too much work” and sleeping at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters while implementing radical changes.
Musk has drawn criticism for his abrupt policy changes at Twitter and neglect of his other businesses. He’s also changed the corporate name of Twitter’s parent to X Holdings, an entity that could eventually be the umbrella for all his businesses — an idea he has publicly mused about. Musk has also said he wants to build Twitter beyond social media and into an “everything app,” including financial services.
During his tenure, Musk slashed thousands of jobs, scaled back the company’s content moderation and allowed accounts previously banned for breaking rules to return. A controversial subscription service plan, Twitter Blue, has been flailing, drawing less than 1 per cent of the user base. Twitter needs to boost sales in order to repay $12.5 billion in debt the company took on when Musk bought it. Annual interest is expected to exceed $1.2 billion.
“I can say that she would be my first choice, and my only choice, to save the platform from the hands of its owner,” said Lou Paskalis, who advises marketers as chief strategy officer at Ad Fontes Media, on Twitter. “I still cannot understand why she’d subject herself to @elonmusk, however!”
Yaccarino will have her hands full from day one on an operational side, but also in dealing with the mercurial Musk, who has almost single-handedly run the company since he took over and once joked that “no one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive.”
Musk already has a friendly relationship with Yaccarino, who interviewed him last month at a major advertising conference in Miami, and called him “friend” and “buddy” on stage. Recently, Twitter and NBCU expanded their Olympic Games partnership.
Yaccarino repeatedly emphasized in her interview with Musk that what advertisers are looking for from Twitter is protection. At one point, she candidly asked Musk whether he felt he had “de-risked” the platform enough to assure advertisers that their campaigns aren’t going to land in “awful hateful places.”
She wasn’t afraid to drag Musk’s own tweets into that conversation either. In her position at NBC, which has a large distribution partnership with Twitter, Yaccarino said, “Are there days where I see some of your tweets and wish I could say, ‘Stop helping the situation?’” She nodded her head.
Musk’s tweet Thursday, which set off immediate speculation about Yaccarino, came at an awkward time for NBCUniversal. The company is scheduled to give its annual presentation to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Monday. The so-called upfront events, which span the week, are when major media companies begin selling advertising for the fall TV season. Yaccarino would normally have played a major role in NBCU’s presentations but isn’t expected to appear now, a person familiar with the discussions said.
This year’s presentations were already challenged by a screenwriters strike that could result in major delays in TV production and schedules. NBCUniversal’s event is expected to focus heavily on online advertising, as the company further promotes its lineup of movies and TV shows on Peacock. NBCUniversal, a division of Comcast Corp., was rocked just last month by the firing of its CEO, Jeff Shell, over a sexual harassment complaint leveled by an employee.
Mark Marshall will become interim chairman of NBCUniversal’s global advertising and partnerships group, the company said.
“We are grateful for Linda Yaccarino’s leadership of NBCUniversal’s Advertising Sales business, and for the innovative team and platform she has built,” said Comcast President Mike Cavanagh. “Linda has made countless contributions to the company during her 12-year tenure, and we wish her the best.”