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In this issue, Twitters incoming CEO and what she used to say about social platforms, continuing tur͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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May 15, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where we are borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Visiting NBC’s headquarters at Rockefeller Center used to feel like visiting the Intrepid, the decommissioned aircraft carrier a few blocks west. It was another faded museum of 20th Century America.

And NBC often gets shoved aside, in media reporting, for more exciting companies — as was the case in its unusually boring CEO sex scandal a few weeks ago. So when Elon Musk announced last week that he’d hired Linda Yaccarino, NBC’s top ad executive, coverage focused on the flailing social media company.

But the more interesting story may be about what made Yaccarino, and NBC, so successful. She has, as Max reports below, been winning the argument in the ad market against social media, and in favor of NBC’s safe and wholesome bundle.

The company was viewed, just a few years ago, as a digital laggard and a bit of a muddle. It had taken a quixotic stance on streaming. While Netflix, Warners, CNN, and Disney went all in on subscription services, NBC fed content into Hulu and sold ads on its own lower-budget services.

Now subscriptions are out of fashion, and ads are back — even at Netflix. NBC News is low on drama in a dramatic industry. And the fact that its top ad exec is an industry star says something about NBC, as well as about Yaccarino.

We wrote the other week about the sense that media had turned back to the future. You can certainly feel that unexpected turn at 30 Rock. As the Times wrote recently of the center’s hot new restaurant, Le Rock, Midtown’s decades-long slide into mediocrity is over.

Read on: CNN is still roiling, the upfronts are looking grim, Vice is still collapsing, and the walls seem to be closing in on the singular Chinese publication Sixth Tone.

And: Our events keep making news, and my colleague Steve Clemons is leading a conversation May 25 on one of Washington’s big topics, infrastructure.

Box Score

New York: Expect picket lines and declining ad revenue at a gloomy upfronts. — THR

Silicon Valley: Elon Musk makes clear that Twitter will not resist state censorship, bowing speedily to Turkish pressure. — Washington Post

Shanghai: Bibek Bhandari quit the English-language outlet Sixth Tone after censors tightened the reins on a publication that had been permitted a narrow space to write about sexuality and other Chinese social issues — but not, apparently, Zero Covid. He went back to Nepal, and wrote about it. — @bibekbhandari

Max Tani

Linda Yaccorino sold against social media. Now she’s going to run Twitter.

Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images


Linda Yaccarino kept NBC’s advertising business humming through a decade of disruption with a simple, compelling pitch: Platforms like YouTube and Twitter are unsafe for brands.

As CEO of Twitter, she’ll have to make the exact opposite argument to many of the same marketers. She’s making two bets. First, that her deep relationships in the ad industry will help her persuade them to ignore what she spent the last decade saying. And second, that Musk — who told her in an on-stage interview last month that his commitment to a raucous, wide open platform won’t change — will also bend to her will.

In 2016, she touted how much more engaged audiences were with television than Facebook or Youtube. In 2017, she mocked former Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s comments that they have the equivalent of a Super Bowl every day on cell phones in terms of reach. Yaccarino held up her phone and “exaggeratedly swiped the screen without breaking eye contact. ‘Does this look like a Super Bowl? This is not a Super Bowl.’” She told the Hollywood Reporter that the ability to control content quality gave them an advantage over digital rivals, saying brands liked that their ads would not air alongside controversial video clips online.

“Let’s be honest: Brand safety is a low bar, and some companies can’t even get that right,” she said onstage at NBC’s upfronts presentation in 2017, referring to her digital rivals. “It’s really about the lack of discipline — from a gigantic large-cap company — and the loss of trust. It’s going to take a long time to regain that trust.”

“We’re the only place that consumers can actually completely trust,” she said in an interview at last year’s upfronts.


Yaccarino is a larger-than-life figure in the ad industry who once referred to herself as the Kim Kardashian of NBCU. Her hire could be a lifeline for Twitter, which effectively abandoned its core advertising business when Musk arrived without successfully pivoting to a new one.

But Yaccarino’s ascent may say as much about NBC as about Twitter.

Her move comes at an awkward time for the media giant. She’s leaving just weeks after the abrupt departure of CEO Jeff Shell over a workplace relationship, and it has sidelined her during the most important week of her year, right before the company’s annual upfront pitch to advertisers. The New York Times reported that Yaccarino was in rehearsals for NBC’s annual upfronts presentation when Musk posted a tweet about hiring a new CEO, and hadn’t informed many fellow NBC execs that she would be leaving.

Yaccarino’s hiring was part of a months-long courtship by Musk that included public praise and attempts by both parties to help mend fences between Musk and prominent ad execs.The courtship began well before Yaccarino conducted an on-stage interview at the POSSIBLE marketing conference in April in Miami, in which she praised Musk as a hard worker, a supporter of free speech, and someone making Twitter safer for advertisers.

Behind the scenes, Yaccarino was already in some ways working to help Musk.

Last month, I revealed how prominent marketers on the organization’s board who privately expressed concerns about being associated with Musk given his recent inflammatory comments about race and political issues and hard rightward turn. I contacted the marketing association hosting the event for the story — but instead heard back almost immediately from Yaccarino’s team at NBCU, who provided a statement pushing back on the upcoming piece and downplaying the idea of fissures within the organization over Musk’s appearance.

People within NBCU were not surprised that Yaccarino had her eyes on the top job at Twitter. Two people familiar with her former ad exec’s thinking said she was disappointed that she was not taken seriously as a candidate to replace either Shell or Steve Burke when he stepped down as chairman of NBCU in 2019. Internally, Yaccarino was seen as one of the most important parts of the company’s business. But while she attempted to expand her duties into other divisions including cable, she was ultimately unsuccessful, limiting her growth within the company.

“She was a victim of her own success,” one former NBC executive who worked with Yaccarino said. “They really counted on her to bring in ad revenue. Someone else in that position you’d rotate around the company to prepare for a larger role.”


Yaccarino’s stature reflects her and NBC’s success at holding their ground through a complicated period in recent years. The 59-year-old ad executive spearheaded the One Platform advertising hub which consolidated advertising across various parts of the company like NBC, Bravo, Peacock, and its digital properties. After nearly two decades working in ads sales for Turner broadcasting, she joined NBCU in 2011 as the head of its cable and digital ad sales division, and was quickly elevated into the top job as the company’s global chair of ads and partnerships.

She’s also a rarity in advertising: She’s an unabashed conservative, Fox News consumer, and fan of former President Donald Trump.

Two people familiar with the incident recalled that in 2016, Yaccarino asked to attend a candidate forum in New York hosted by NBC News in which both Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared. It wasn’t unusual for company executives to desire face time with Clinton. It was, however, notable to staff that one wanted to be up close to Trump.


Yaccarino and NBC have reached some sort of detente with tech companies, her allies say. One shared a March profile in Ad Age which showcased partnerships that she had formed with Google and Facebook. NBCU has also partnered with Twitter for years.

“Linda has shifted the entire strategy at NBCU to form partnerships with all the platforms,” an ally of hers said.


  • Yaccarino updated her Linkedin profile over the weekend, and confirmed that she was set to join Twitter in the coming weeks. “I see I have some new followers…I’m not as prolific as @elonmusk (yet!), but I’m just as committed to the future of this platform,” she wrote on Twitter. “Your feedback is VITAL to that future. I’m here for all of it. Let’s keep the conversation going and build Twitter 2.0 together!”
  • Hours after Trump slammed NBC on Twitter in 2018, he appointed Yaccarino to his sports and fitness council.
One Good Text

Nina Jankowicz is the former Executive Director of the U.S. Disinformation Governance Board.


New Platform: Jimmy Finkelstein’s new media company the Messenger will flex its South Florida muscles when it goes live this week. Between Finkelstein’s relationship with Donald Trump and political reporter Marc Caputo’s unusually decent relationship with Ron DeSantis, the publication plans to launch with big interviews, including one with Trump.

Vice and Virtue: Vice is expected to file for bankruptcy as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with plans by creditors Fortress and Soros Fund Management …

Reliable Sources: CNN is continuing to grapple with the fallout of the network’s town hall with former President Donald Trump. On Friday, Puck reported that CNN CEO Chris Licht had a private meeting with media reporter Oliver Darcy and his editor, in which he admonished the Reliable Sources author for his critical coverage of the town hall.

Two people with knowledge of the meeting told Semafor that Darcy was not pleased with the depiction of the meeting, which noted that Licht told Darcy that he was emotional and had “put the fear of God” in the CNN media correspondent. During the meeting, according to these sources, Darcy rejected the idea that his coverage of the town hall was emotional, instead insisting that he was accurately reflecting internal sentiment and reporting on external criticism. But, according to one person familiar with the meeting’s dynamics, it ended relatively cordially with Licht telling Darcy that he supported him.

A particularly bitter pill for some CNN employees was an anonymous comment from a Licht ally to Fox News, piling on the CNN reporters.r. One person familiar told Semafor that before the piece was published, Darcy’s newsletter was seen by Virginia Moseley, CNN’s vice president of editorial, as well as CNN standards and senior VP of global news Rachel Smolkin. Both also attended Thursday’s meeting, but according to one person familiar with the situation, they were “relatively quiet.”

In the aftermath of the meeting and coverage, Darcy has wondered to colleagues whether he should resign or if he will be fired by the network. He declined to comment for this newsletter.



While surveying Americans about where they get their news, a Gallup/Knight Foundation poll found a percentage of respondents who relied on specific people for their information, including a number of media personalities. “Even amongst the top 20 [people named], we actually had 900 unique names that were written into the poll,” says Ashely Zohn, a researcher at the Knight Foundation. “So we can see that there’s no one person that’s dominating the market.”

Cable news was the home of the most popular names that were put down, with Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow topping 100 votes each. Other big names listed included Trevor Noah, Lester Holt, Sean Hannity and Anderson Cooper.

— Emily Nadal

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— Ben