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Q&A: Shari Anne Brill

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Illustration by Chris Morris  

Shari Anne Brill has long been considered one of the leading media researchers in the industry. The oft-quoted executive recently left Carat, marking the latest exit of a veteran researcher from an ad agency. But the departure hasn't stopped Brill from forming strong opinions about the broadcast networks, the future of advertising-based businesses and why Howard Stern isn't right for "American Idol."

The Hollywood Reporter: What do you expect the ad landscape to look like a year from now?

Shari Anne Brill: I'm hoping it gets a little better. But what really drives advertising is consumer confidence. I think it's about consumers feeling a bit more comfortable, it's not about Wall Streeters being able to buy luxury cars. When everybody feels good about buying a Honda again, that's when you'll see a resurgence.

THR: What about the breakdown between print and online versus TV?

Brill: It should never be "versus." I can see some money making its way to online. But if the Super Bowl can get more than 100 million people watching a TV show ... With the right programming, TV is still dominant, it's where you get the masses. All those other venues are additive. The online presence extends the relationship. I can see more dollars going to online, but I don't see them coming from TV, I see them coming from print.

THR: Is ratings-based research going away as media buyers look toward consumer research?

Brill: You need both. Consumer insights are important, but you also need the nuts and bolts. To focus on one versus the other is not the wisest course. You need the why and how as well as the how many.

THR: Let's grade the networks, now and moving forward. Fox?

Brill: They did well in the fourth quarter. "Glee" will continue to grow. I think a big part of how Fox will do is who the replacement judge will be. A Simon Cowell-less "American Idol" could make it no longer the top-rated show.

THR: There have been some rumors that Fox has approached Howard Stern. Would ad buyers go for that?

Brill: He can be crass. I think he's an attention-getting figure. I think you need a heavy hitter in the music business. I don't see Howard being that way. He'd have to have a personality change because his TV shows in the past have not exactly had a lot of advertiser support.

THR: Should Fox go after Conan O'Brien?

Brill: Demographically he's a great fit, though he's not going to get a big audience.

THR: How about CBS?

Brill: Without a doubt they should get an "A" going into next year, even though they have the oldest median age. They're sticking with what really works for them.

THR: And ABC?

Brill: They have a bit of unevenness on the drama side, and there's concern about "FlashForward" and "V." They did absolutely great with the comedy launches this fall. But there's a question of what they're going to program in a post-"Lost" world.

THR: Is the addition of two successful comedies in "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" enough to offset the departure of "Lost"?

Brill: They're very different shows. "Lost" is one of their few shows that attract male viewers. I hope "FlashForward" comes back even stronger.

THR: NBC?

Brill: I'm looking ahead to the development prospects. They understand that it's about the audience and quality of the programming. Managing for margins is not an effective model for a broadcast network. They're going to have issues with the remainder of their schedule because they're pushing so much of their 9 p.m. shows into 10 p.m. As far as this Comcast merger, I worry about people controlling the pipes and the content.

THR: From an ad buyer perspective, has the network's late-night issues hurt the value that Jay Leno brings?

Brill: I don't know if there will be long-term PR damage, though I think it will eventually dissipate. The promo with David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey was hilarious.

THR: What can Comcast do to right the ship at NBC?

Brill: Run it like the broadcast network it was two decades ago. Don't run it like a cable network.

THR: And the CW? Do you see it being here two years from now?

Brill: If they keep putting on shows like "Life Unexpected," absolutely. It needs to be a little bit broader and bring in some men too. You can't just be exclusively female.

THR: What about CNN? Is there any way to overtake Fox News?

Brill: Smarter people need to be having more kids. I don't know how else you can overcome it.