Despite Ratings Dip, Sales Chiefs Upbeat

Beyond spots, broadcast networks prep upfront ‘innovations’ for clients

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With ratings down again this primetime season, some are predicting
a tough upfront market for broadcasters, who are facing
new competition from the companies that created the NewFronts
to sell digital video, as well as from cable, whose sales surpassed
broadcast in last year’s upfront.

But the top sales executives at the broadcast networks would rather
look at signs that point to an improving economy and a strengthening
scatter market as harbingers of decent upfront numbers.

At presentations this week, the broadcasters will look to put their
best foot forward, beguiling buyers with promising new shows and
fresh evidence that an ad campaign without the reach and impact
broadcast uniquely provides is like a day without sunshine.

Media moguls this month have been predicting a robust upfront,
led by perennially sunny CBS Corp. president/CEO Leslie Moonves,
who could not restrain himself from making his annual forecast that
America’s Most Watched Network would garner double-digit price
increases in the upfront.

That sentiment was echoed by Jo Ann Ross, president for ad sales
at Moonves’ broadcast network.

“Everything’s looking up here at CBS,” Ross told B&C. “We are having
back-to-back breakfasts, lunches and dinners,” with clients and
buyers. “Everyone wants to sit down and have a conversation.”

Ross said the ad market seems solid right now—a good sign for the
upfront. “Second-quarter scatter continues to be strong,” she said. “The
demand is there. Budgets are coming in
well before !ight date.”

Geri Wang, president of sales and
marketing at ABC, said she is optimistic
because the macroeconomic indicators
are good. “The micro detail rolls up really
nicely. And I like our position,” she
added. “So I’m feeling very, very good
about the upfront.”

Like her counterparts, Wang is encouraged
by the pilots she has been
screening. “The level of quality across
the board for all the scripted drama and
comedy [development] has been really strong,” she said. “I’m really
excited we’ll be adding to our portfolio.”

Some media buyers claim Fox ad sales president Toby Byrne is in
for a rough upfront, however. Fox’s ratings are off a disappointing
20% this season, and its top show, American Idol, has fallen from its
once-dominant position back into the pack, making a drop in upfront
sales almost inevitable. But Byrne also preferred to stay positive in
talking about his inventory.

“Fox still stands alone in terms of differentiation in several ways from
our competitors,” Byrne said. “In the younger half of the 18-49 demo,
the 18-34 segment, we have a growing advantage versus our broadcast
competitors. We have a social footprint that is second to none in television.
And that speaks to both the involvement of our shows with the audience
as well as how engaged our audience is in our content. So these
are things that still separate us and make Fox a unique proposition.”

Byrne also points to the scatter market for signs the upfront will be
OK. “Scatter pricing is healthy, and there is solid demand for our signature
programs, including New Girl, The Following, American Idol and
our Sunday-night lineup,” he said.

Both Sides Against the Middle

This year, Linda Yaccarino, president of sales for NBCUniversal,
is in a unique spot, heading sales for troubled NBC as well as NBC’s
strong roster of cable networks. For years when she worked at Turner,
Yaccarino urged advertisers to buy cable.

“What I always said, which remains true, is that cable is a terrific
complement to broadcast prime,” Yaccarino said. “So I think it’s actually
a very logical progression that I have been lucky enough to be given
this opportunity here to oversee all of the assets for NBCUniversal so
we can sit here and say, ‘How do we help you look at your media plans
across all our assets, broadcast, cable and digital, to meet your needs
and help you sell stuff?’”

Yaccarino is upbeat about
NBC. “We go into the upfront
market with the wind
at our backs and some really
good momentum from
The Voice and Revolution
and Chicago Fire,” she said.
“And we are really excited
about what we saw in the
development meetings.”

NBCU is set up to sell
advertisers packages that
reach consumers using both broadcast and cable. “We’re involved
in several of those conversations already,” Yaccarino said. “The math
tells us there is a shortage of [gross rating points] in the marketplace
and that there is a need to aggregate and there is a bigger need to
aggregate cross-portfolio.”

Much of the pre-upfront posturing has involved measurement,
particularly with the networks talking about using Nielsen C7 ratings
that count commercials viewed during seven days of DVR playback
instead of the current C3 standard, which covers three days.
ABC has reportedly been writing C7 business for a while. But now
the broadcasters seem to be downplaying the desirability of C7.

“It’s not going to be one
size !ts all. I think most of
our business will be written
on C3 [ratings], but there are
probably a handful of clients,
depending on what their inclination
is, [that] look at
C7,” CBS’ Ross said.

Yaccarino said NBC is
open to having conversations
about C7 with clients.
But she adds, “I don’t think
that that is at all a real solution to the measurement crisis that we have on our hands.” Yaccarino
added that a “significant” amount of NBCUniversal’s audience is
watching content on devices that currently are unmeasured.

“I think that’s a problem. The trend seems to indicate that viewing
on those devices will continue to grow,” Yaccarino said. “I do think we
have a crisis since historically, measurement has lagged behind consumer
behavior. So it has become an acute need to drive toward total
measurement. And that’s where we as an industry need to come together
to push progress in this area. And I think Comcast NBCUniversal is
uniquely positioned to push that conversation forward.”

Everything Counts, Whether Measured Or Not

As more viewers watch network shows online or on mobile devices
including tablets and smartphones, the broadcasters are including
some of those digital impressions in the audiences they guarantee
their upfront advertisers.

Fox calls that "uidity. “Our "uidity model is broadly accepted, providing
one-stop shopping here for wherever our content is distributed,
on whatever platform,” Byrne said.

Clients are looking at TV, digital and other media to put together multiplatform
campaigns, and broadcasters want to be part of that process.

“The whole world is cross-platform—that’s what it’s about,” Wang said. “We’ve evolved and
enhanced the offering.”

The networks have beefed
up their integrated marketing
staffs to create innovative
offerings for advertisers
that are demanding
plans including more than
30-second spots from their
media partners.
“The key to innovation
is not just doing more of it,
it’s about doing it well. It’s a win-win for the clients and us when we
have enough lead time to really understand what their brand brief is
and to actually get into the planning guts of it,” said Ross. “Whether
they want the integration to start on broadcast within a show and
then have arms and legs through webisodes, on or any of
our other assets, whether it goes to mobile, whether it crosses divisions,
our team is very involved in it. I think we have a good reputation
with the bigger clients that have done that type of thing with us.”

Yaccarino said NBCU has a creative marketing team of 50 to 60
people to “amplify across the entire company the marketing activation
of all our assets.” She
said it’s a priority “to deliver
on the marketing piece for
our customers that they
have been asking for in a
bigger and better way for a
while. We’re finally able to
deliver that to them.”

In addition to primetime,
the networks sell their other
dayparts during the upfront.

ABC is upbeat about its
late night and early morning programming.

Kimmel’s Time to Shine

While Jimmy Kimmel’s irreverent rants about the advertising sales
process have been a !xture at ABC’s upfronts, this is the first year the
network will be selling Kimmel as its 11:35 p.m. late-night anchor.

“We think Jimmy is on the ascendency. He is the funniest guy in
show business. We couldn’t be more excited to have him be the centerpiece
of our late-night strategy,” said ABC’s Wang. “We definitely
expect a share shift over to Jimmy based on what he has been able to accomplish.”

Late-night will also be a big deal for NBC, where Jay Leno will be
stepping down from the Tonight Show and succeeded by Jimmy Fallon.
“We’re very excited about the continuation of the strength of NBC in
this daypart as the No. 1 for so many years,” Yaccarino said. NBCU’s
late-night dominance goes beyond NBC, she adds. “When you look
at that and you add Andy Cohen [whose show is on Bravo] and you
add Chelsea Handler [on E!] and when you look across [our] late-night
daypart, you see a lot of great opportunity from an audience perspective
and from a marketing sponsorship perspective.”

ABC’s Wang feels the same way about Good Morning America. GMA
has overtaken NBC’s Today as the ratings leader among breakfast news
shows, and Wang anticipates a similar shift in ad dollars in the upfront.
“We’re also expecting the same thing from GMA,” she said.

The nets will also be selling sports to advertisers. “The sports marketplace
is very healthy. I think there’s likely going to be volume growth,” said
Fox’s Byrne. “Naturally, it’s always exciting when [your network has] the
Super Bowl, and it being in New York [next February] is fantastic. Also,
the launching of Fox Sports 1 is an incredibly exciting endeavor. We think
there’s an appetite in the marketplace for additional players in the space.”

NBC Sports will be offering Sunday Night Football, the top-rated
primetime program, and the 2014 Winter Olympics from Socci, Russia.
“We have asset after asset, league after league, sport after sport. It’s such
a great portfolio to have the opportunity to represent,” Yaccarino said.

“Do the customers we talk to who we have a lot of long-standing
relationships with want to look at NBCUniversal as a whole portfolio?
The answer is, of course,” Yaccarino added. “And when it makes sense
and we can meet each others’ needs, the answer is, of course we have
those conversations. But it’s all about delivering what the customer
needs, and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.”

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