May 12 (Reuters) – Elon Musk has named former NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino as Twitter’s new chief executive, as the company tries to reverse a decline in ad revenue.
Yaccarino will take over a social media platform beset by challenges and a heavy debt load, after she spent several years modernizing the advertising business at NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corp ( CMCSA.O ).
“I’m excited to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter!” Musk said so in a tweet on Friday. “@LindaYacc will focus primarily on business operations, while I focus on product design and new technology.”
Since Musk acquired Twitter in October, advertisers have fled the social media platform, worried that their ads could appear next to inappropriate content after the company shed nearly 80% of its employees. Musk acknowledged earlier this year that Twitter was suffering a massive decline in ad revenue.
Twitter’s “trajectory will immediately take a 180-degree turn” under her leadership, said Lou Paskalis, a longtime ad industry executive and CEO of AJL Advisory, a marketing consulting firm.
“I think (Yaccarino) has climbed every mountain she could at NBCU and did it impeccably well. And there is no greater challenge than restoring order to Twitter,” he said.
While Musk said Yaccarino would help build an “everything app,” which he has previously said could offer a variety of services such as peer-to-peer payments, his choice of an advertising veteran signaled that digital ads will continue to be a core focus of the business.
Musk has laid off thousands of Twitter employees, rushed the launch of a subscription product that allowed scammers to impersonate big brands and suspended users with whom he disagreed, all of which have scared brands away from using the platform.
To diversify away from ads, the billionaire has focused on Twitter Blue, a subscription feature that costs users $8 per month to verify their accounts, but the product has had limited success.
Independent researcher Travis Brown, who has tracked the number of Twitter Blue subscribers over time, estimated there were 619,858 customers as of April 30.
Yaccarino could not be reached for comment.
BLOW TO NBCUNIVERSAL
Her exit is another big hit for NBCUniversal. Last month, NBC parent Comcast said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell left after acknowledging an inappropriate relationship with a woman at the company, following a complaint that prompted an investigation.
Advertising president Mark Marshall will step in as interim chairman of NBCUniversal’s advertising and partnerships group. Marshall was named president of advertising sales and partnerships in 2018, overseeing NBC’s broadcast entertainment, sports and advanced advertising sales.
Yaccarino’s exit comes at a difficult time for NBCUniversal, which is preparing for its annual presentation to advertisers on Monday at Radio City Music Hall.
Yaccarino joined NBCU in 2011, after 15 years at Turner Entertainment, and has been credited with taking the network’s ad sales operation into the digital era.
As TV audiences transitioned to streaming, she took to the stage at Radio City Music Hall last year to tell advertisers that their branding messages were not an afterthought. She said NBCUniversal incorporated ads into its Peacock streaming service from the beginning.
“Twitter needs credibility with the advertising community,” said Greg Kahn, managing director of media consultancy GK Digital Ventures. “Linda has demonstrated her confidence, her innovative nature in bringing new partners to the table and a deep bench of relationships.”
Musk, chief executive of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc ( TSLA.O ), completed its $44 billion purchase of Twitter in October. He said Friday that hiring Yaccarino would allow him to spend more time running Tesla.
On Thursday, Musk tweeted that he had found a CEO without identifying Yaccarino. A person close to Yaccarino said Musk’s tweet may have accelerated the timetable for her joining Twitter, which would be a relief to Tesla shareholders.
Shares of Tesla ended down 2.4% at $167.98 on Friday, while Comcast shares fell 0.4% to $40.21.
Reporting by Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva
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