Jo Ann Ross, First Woman to Lead Broadcast TV Ad Sales, Plans to Exit Paramount Global (EXCLUSIVE)

Jo Ann Ross, the first woman to run a broadcast TV network’s ad-sales efforts and one of the last senior ad-sales executives in the TV industry to hold direct relationships with advertisers when primetime broadcast programs were seen as the primary venue for Madison Avenue’s dollars, is leaving the industry, stepping down from her role as chairman of Paramount Global’s ad sales division at the end of April.

Ross had already stepped back from day to day duties, ceding that role to John Halley, who was named president of ad sales for the company in 2022. But her relationships with key sponsors were seen as valuable, as were the ties many of her senior executives had with media agencies and marketing executives. She has stayed on at Paramount in a key advisory role.

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“Jo Ann has steered our advertising business from one milestone to the next. She oversaw the successful integration and evolution of our combined ad sales organization in the midst of the pandemic. She was also instrumental in reimagining our Upfront last year, a format that others have tried to replicate,” said Bob Bakish, Paramount’s CEO, in a memo issued Tuesday. “More recently, Jo Ann was essential in our efforts to deliver a historic Super Bowl LVIII that set a record for viewership and gross ad revenue, topping off an impressive roster of storied Super Bowls since joining CBS in 1992.”

Ross has been a trailblazer in the TV industry, taking over ad sales for the former CBS Corp. after the departure of Joe Abruzzese in 2002, when he exited to join Discovery Communications. During her tenure, she formed one of the most durable ad-sales teams in TV, with executives like Chris Simon, John Bogusz, Linda Rene and Joe Mina staying with her for years.

Ross joined CBS in 1992 as vice president of Olympic sales, and eventually rose to become the longest-tenured sales head in broadcast TV. During her tenure, CBS opened some of TV’s most popular programs to advertisers in new ways, including product integrations that weren’t always welcome in past eras. It was Ross’ team that managed to develop an episode of “60 Minutes” that had no national commercials and more time for stories, thanks to a sponsorship with Philips Electronics; create a “green room” for “CBS This Morning” backed by Toyota; inject Microsoft and Toyota into “Under The Dome,” a sci-fi drama about a town cut off from the rest of the world; and team up with Stephen Colbert to welcome advertisers into in-show segments on “The Late Show.”

Ross unveils her exit as Paramount treads an unsettled path. The company is said to be mulling an array of strategic options, including a sale, as it navigates a tougher advertising climate and as broadcasters contend with growing competition from digital rivals such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Ross’ departure has been preceded in recent months by key lieutenants, including Rene, who supervised prime time ad sales for CBS and was instrumental in developing product appearances in shows such as “Survivor” and “Hawaii Five-0.” Bogusz, who ran CBS’ sports ad-sales efforts for years, recently announced his retirement.

Over many years, Ross developed a reputation as a Madison Avenue stalwart, someone whose handshake still meant something even as more TV networks sold the bulk of their commercial inventory via algorithms and data-mandated audience placements. She has worked to create new opportunities for female executives as well as bolster the representation of women and girls in media and entertainment. She has e long supported Memorial Sloan Kettering’s annual Cycle for Survival, the Reisenbach Philanthropies, the Ad Council, the International Radio and Television Society, the Video Advertising Bureau and FourBlock, an organization for veteran career readiness.

“From the early days of establishing unprecedented brand integrations for now iconic franchises like Survivor, to the launch of Paramount+ and the expanded premium streaming video opportunity for advertisers, to her integral role in the formation of our ongoing partnership with TNT Sports for the NCAA Tournament, Jo Ann has had an indelible impact that will continue for years to come,” Baskish said.

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