The Upfronts Cometh

MTV, TV One, Current make early dates with buyers to begin pitches for next season

Why This Matters

Early Birds

Where and when MTV, TV One and Current plan February events in New York City to rally interest in upfront sales.

TV One: Feb. 2, lunch, Cipriani
MTV: Feb. 2, evening, Hammerstein Ballroom
Current: Feb. 9, evening, Paley Center for Media

The long upfront season is about to officially begin.

Three cable networks will mount presentations
in early February aimed at catching the attention
of media buyers and planners and garnering a bigger
share of the $16 billion upfront pie when the actual
negotiating takes place in May and June.

MTV, which staged upfront event on the same date
(Feb. 2) last year, has the cast of Jersey Shore lined up
to draw an expected crowd of 1,000 to its shindig at
the Hammerstein Ballroom. This year, two networks
that usually command less attention than MTV are
jumping on the February bandwagon—TV One, which
is holding its first large upfront gathering, and Current,
which did not have one in 2010.

As usual, the broadcast networks will wrap up the
exhausting upfront marathon the week of May 16.
For the third year running, Fox will kick off the week
on Monday with a presentation and party, followed
by ABC on Tuesday and CBS on Wednesday. NBC,
which gave up its Monday beachhead, says it’s waiting
for the Comcast deal to close before announcing
its plans.

Besides sending an “Oh my God, is it that time of
the year already?” chill up buyers’ spines, MTV, TV
One and Current are hoping that by jumping on the
calendar before the rush, they will have a better chance
of having their message heard.

“My thought was to be out there before all of the
other upfront events, to get TV One top of mind before
all that other upfront noise begins,” says Keith Bowen,
chief revenue officer of TV One, which is holding a
luncheon at Manhattan’s Cipriani restaurant on Feb. 2.

“It’s important that we tell
our story early, because we
have a lot to accomplish,”
says Ken Ripley, executive
VP for ad sales at Current, which will take over the
Paley Center Feb. 9. “We’re repositioning the network
and how we program it. We need to alert people to the
fact that we’re rated, and
we need to do it in such a
way that people will know
to plan for us. We participated
in the upfront last
year for the first time and
had some success. But this
is a year that we want to
step up.”

The early-bird strategy
can work if the timing is
just right. “The earlier you
do it, you do run the risk
of getting people who really
aren’t in that [upfront]
mindset yet,” says John
Muszynski, chief investment
officer of Starcom MediaVest Group’s SMGX unit
and a veteran of many upfront events.

Muszynski isn’t sure networks need extravagant parties
to tell their stories. “I am a killjoy. It used to be
we’d go to eight or nine of these a year. Now you could
go to 50,” he says.

But attending meetings with the networks is important.
“In many cases, it’s something small that is said at
one of these events that sparks an idea and you take it
back to one of your clients and say this is an opportunity
we want to pursue,” Muszynski says.

TV One is calling its event a programming showcase.
“It’s really an opportunity to connect people who
aren’t necessarily our core viewers with all the great
things we’re doing at the network,” Bowen says. The
network’s ratings were up 17% last year, and Bowen
says revenue was up 20%.

TV One will be using the theme “Experience Black.”
“We’re not just about music, we’re not just about politics.
We’re kind of a holistic approach to the African-
American Experience,” Bowen says.

Bowen says he’d be happy with a gathering of about
175 to 225 planners, buyers and clients. He also hopes
to see the entertainment division executives at the media
agencies, to get them excited about integration opportunities
on the network.

Current founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt will be on
hand as the network tells about 250 top buyers and clients
about its shift from short-form viewer-created content to
long-form programming, including its new crowd-sourced
series Bar Karma. The network will also talk about its
viewer-created ad messages initiative and other ways it
can create content for its sponsors, Ripley says.

Meanwhile, invites to MTV’s presentation promise
“millennial insights, new programming, musical performance,
killer party.” Get your laundry done and
start working on your tan.

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