Jay Penske has promoted Variety’s veteran ad-sales exec Michelle Sobrino-Stearns to publisher of Variety. Never in the showbiz publication’s 107-year-history has it been headed by a woman.
The new Variety owner, whose Penske Media acquired the trade on October 9, is filling the gap left by departing Neil Stiles, the architect of Variety’s archaic approach to the internet, as well as his lieutenant and publisher Brian Gott. Variety needs to move forward. Penske has already said he will remove Variety’s unpopular pay wall.
Sobrino-Stearns, who started at the LA offices of Variety in 1997 as sales director, moving on to managing director of features and associate publisher, reports to Penske. Digital initiatives are on her plate, she tells Variety.
There is much speculation as to exactly what Penkse plans to do with his new $25 million brand. How valuable is the Variety logo above: what does it mean now? Is it old and grey and tired? Can it be reinvigorated? Variety’s staffers are upbeat about joining the 21st century. With Barry Diller and Tina Brown’s Newsweek print edition going extinct and threats that UK’s The Guardian might follow, is there a future for a print trade?
Penske Media’s Deadline is chugging along as an online breaking news site. Renamed Awardsline’s print editions are not edited by Finke, but by ex-THR and Variety editor Christy Grosz. (Finke has jurisdiction over anything with the name Deadline.) The Hollywood Reporter and Screen both boast robust print editions, one a glossy consumer-friendly weekly, the other a dense industry-directed monthly. Whither Variety’s skinny small circulation Weekly, which is nothing like it used to be under Peter Bart?
Will Penske focus on grabbing more revenue from soft print features, reviews, premium data, international? Will he combine the ad sales sides of the two companies? Will he move the Variety team, currently ensconced in an expensive Wilshire corridor high-rise decorated with the red iconic Variety logo (which isn’t cheap), to more modest digs in El Segundo, where Penske Media is based?
Despite reports that Penske and Finke are feuding, I’m told that they talk every day. Which neither means that she’s hovering to take over Variety, or that Penske’s ready to push her out the door (that’s wishful industry thinking). She’s doing her thing. And he’s trying to figure out how to maximize his new investment.