Advertising and Marketing

Upfronts 2012: Let the Games Begin

A backstage look at how networks whip presentations into shape before they vie for billions in ad revenue 1/30/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

The Expectation: Looking Good, Not Great

It is probably too soon to predict how the 2012 upfront market will go, but early opinions are that it will not be as strong as last year.

“The broadcast year 2012/2013 upfront is not setting up nearly as well as the broadcast year 2011/2012 upfronts did, and year-over-year CPM increases during the next upfront could well be a few hundred basic points lower than the prior upfront pricing increases [which were in the 10–11% range],” analyst David Bank of RBC Capital Markets said in a recent report. (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point.)

“At this point it looks like it will be a less inflationary year than last year,” says Chris Geraci, president for national broadcast at OMD.

“We’re definitely in a recovery mode with the economy, and so that’s positive. Advertisers continue to make good use of television, so that’s a positive for the sellers as well,” Geraci says. “The fact that activity in the scatter market has been slow and steady is a good sign for buyers. Plus, it doesn’t appear that money usually earmarked for scatter will pour into the upfront like it did a year ago,” he adds.

“It will be a good upfront, but not a great upfront. The increases could be mid-single-digits as far as CPMs,” says Marc Morris, senior VP at media agency RJ Palmer. “You could have some advertisers holding back for scatter because now scatter’s soft and if you have money, you can get a pretty good deal right now. But I still think the [upfront] money will be up.” —JL

It’s only January, but it’s already upfront time for the people who
put together the presentations designed to lure the $18 billion in
advertising dollars that media buyers will parcel out starting in
late May for the 2012-13 season.

Network execs are assembling reams of research, culling
clips from shows and looking for ways to make their
massive strategy plays interesting and original—even
unforgettable—to buyers who have seen it all many
times before. Some presentations networks assemble
will be aimed at a single buyer or client. Others will be
shown in giant venues like Radio City Music Hall. And
as CBS chief Leslie Moonves likes to remind us every
year at his May presentation in the historic venue: How
do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Media buyers have seen hundreds of these presentations.
You have to make your stuff stand out and be
very entertaining and memorable,” says Andy Baker, VP
and creative director at National Geographic Channel.
“Make them smile. Make them get a goose bump. Really
wow them. I’ve worked on upfront every single
year for the last 10 or 11 years, so I’ve learned a little
lesson in each along the way.”

“In terms of the day-to-day, it’s probably front-ofmind
about six to eight months of the year,” says
Patrick Trettenero, creative director at USA Network.
“And the rest of the year, we’re either analyzing what
we just did, or starting to think about what we’re going
to do the next year.”

Buyers are also getting into upfront mode. “We’re
getting to around that time in late January where people
are starting to think a little bit about ‘Hey, it’s going
to be upfront pretty soon,’” says Gary Carr, senior VP,
executive director of national broadcast at Targetcast.
“Within the next month or two we’re going to have to
make presentations to our clients talking about where
we see the market. That’s what’s going on right now.”

New tactics are already at work. This year, networks
are waiting until March before holding events. During
the past two years, MTV was among the early birds,
putting on a show last February at the Hammerstein
Ballroom featuring music by Bruno Mars. The network
was struggling and wanted an uncluttered time to explain
its new strategy to buyers. Now, with ratings up,
MTV will step up to the plate in late April to be more
in the thick of things.

Some networks, like NatGeo, will hold meetings
with individual agencies and clients and forgo a major
event. Others like FX will focus on fun, inviting buyers
for a night of bowling with the network’s talent. Many
nets will rent out a restaurant, a loft, a theater or arena
and put on a show and try to deliver their sales message while entertaining clients.

As ratings and ad revenue for cable networks have
grown, their presentations have become more elaborate.
Top-rated cabler USA Network will hold an event
during what has traditionally been the broadcasters’
week (this year starting May 14), joining Turner Broadcasting
and ESPN.

“More and more cable networks are doing lavish presentations
at nice venues with entertainment,” Carr says.
“Those networks get a lot of money. They’re getting billions
in sales and they’re putting on better and better
shows and they’re taking some of that primetime money.”

0130 Cover story tales of the tape box

Broadcasters Are Baaaack

As for the broadcast networks, they cut back during
the recession but are now also partying like its 1999.
NBC, which stopped doing big presentations in 2008
and 2009, put on a full-scale schedule presentation last
year on Monday morning of upfront week, followed
by a luncheon with its stars in attendance. NBC would
not discuss its 2012 plans. Fox takes its swings after
NBC on Monday afternoon. Fox also throws a big party
in Central Park Monday evening.

ABC will once again gather buyers at Lincoln Center
to present its new schedule and sales pitch Tuesday
afternoon of upfront week. The network has been
sending many attendees home hungry and thirsty from
that session, hosting an afterparty for only big buyers
and clients.

Those big schedule announcements still deliver more than the shrimp usually served afterward
(though some have judged a network’s upfront by the
size of the shellfish).

“For someone who does what I do, it’s important to
be presented with the schedule and know what the
programming is going to look like,” says Chris Geraci,
president of national broadcast at OMD. “I still think
that it’s a pretty efficient use of one or two hours.”

But for both the broadcast and cable networks, a lot
of the detail work gets done in smaller meetings and
presentations long before negotiations over CPMs start
in May and June.

“On a client-by-client basis, I would think
that the meetings that happen well in advance
of that week in May are the more important
ones because [the networks] hopefully
have done their homework about why
something might be good for a particular
advertiser,” Geraci says.

Chris Sloan, copresident and executive creative
director of 2C Media, which creates
presentation materials for broadcast networks,
cable networks and syndicators, says
networks have become much more strategic.
“In the old days they would spend $300,000
on these gigantic song-and-dance pieces,”
Sloan says. “It’s a different age. There’s just
so much more accountability now, and the
economy’s obviously played a part of it.”

Still it is showbiz, so a lot of attention is
put into getting the mix of information and
entertainment just right.

“Our first couple of years, as we were introducing
the brand and the channel, we had
to work really hard on the sales points and
giving data of why they should advertise,”
says NatGeo’s Baker. “And now our sales
team says let’s tell great stories and show our
great visuals because we believe that when
people see the great shows, they’re just going
to want to buy us.”

Last year, USA put on a big, broadcaststyle
upfront at Lincoln Center. “In an effort
to make it very specific to USA and to our
brand—Characters Welcome—we made the
choice to not have a single executive on the
stage during the presentation,” says Trettenero.
The statistics were also kept to a minimum.
“We’re the No. 1 cable network for six
years in a row now. Quite frankly, how many
times do we need to repeat that?”

But all the rest of the details were revised almost
obsessively.

“We fuss over the design of the cocktail napkins at
our upfront event,” Trettenero says. “What I can tell
you, and I’m sure this is true for every network, is that
there are a lot of cooks in that kitchen. And that includes
the network executives, the sales executives, the
[account executives] who are in the trenches having to
actually develop those relationships and make those
deals, all of the creatives who are working night and
day. And we’re all in it together.”

0130 Cover story upfronts calendar

Don’t Mess With Success

So, what tends to make an upfront presentation
successful?

Media buyers and planners tend to be a young
group, so it’s important that a presentation be current
in terms of language, pop-culture reference, editing
techniques, special effects and music.

“You can’t do anything that’s old fashioned and corny
and feels like your father’s upfront,” says Trettenero.
“These days, the buyers are hipper and younger than
the network’s audience.”

Music is important in presentations. “We’ve always
worked really hard to make sure the music we’re creating
is unique and different and also connects back to
the brand,” says NatGeo’s Baker. “You’re always mining
different sites to find pieces of music that other folks
aren’t using.” That can be tricky. Last year it seemed
almost every network played Katy Perry’s “Firework,”
making it a bit of a cliché.

Speaking of clichés, it’s also good to avoid overused
buzzwords. 'Transmedia’ was used so much last year
that by June, no one really knew want the word meant,
Trettenero says.

The alternative approach is humor, especially when
it’s self-deprecating. “The more times you can bite the
hand that feeds you, that still creates relevance to a
buyer because you’re able to laugh at yourself, like
when Jimmy Kimmel comes up and eviscerates the
network” at ABC’s upfront, Trettenero adds.

NatGeo’s Baker notes that printed presentation
materials are becoming digital. Upfront Websites are
increasingly common, with games, prizes and other
incentives to keep buyers coming back.

And, buyers and network executives say, another
important attribute of a successful upfront presentation
is brevity.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

The Expectation: Looking Good, Not Great

It is probably too soon to predict how the 2012 upfront market will go, but early opinions are that it will not be as strong as last year.

“The broadcast year 2012/2013 upfront is not setting up nearly as well as the broadcast year 2011/2012 upfronts did, and year-over-year CPM increases during the next upfront could well be a few hundred basic points lower than the prior upfront pricing increases [which were in the 10–11% range],” analyst David Bank of RBC Capital Markets said in a recent report. (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point.)

“At this point it looks like it will be a less inflationary year than last year,” says Chris Geraci, president for national broadcast at OMD.

“We’re definitely in a recovery mode with the economy, and so that’s positive. Advertisers continue to make good use of television, so that’s a positive for the sellers as well,” Geraci says. “The fact that activity in the scatter market has been slow and steady is a good sign for buyers. Plus, it doesn’t appear that money usually earmarked for scatter will pour into the upfront like it did a year ago,” he adds.

“It will be a good upfront, but not a great upfront. The increases could be mid-single-digits as far as CPMs,” says Marc Morris, senior VP at media agency RJ Palmer. “You could have some advertisers holding back for scatter because now scatter’s soft and if you have money, you can get a pretty good deal right now. But I still think the [upfront] money will be up.” —JL

November