Advertising and Marketing

Wet Week Clears Way For Hot Ad Market

Programming gets mostly thumbs-up from buyers 5/23/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Complete coverage of the 2011 upfronts
The Best and Worst of Upfronts 2011
ABC: Lee Gets Network Laughing Again
CBS: Scheduling For Strength
Fox: 'In It to Win It' With Big Bets Like 'X Factor'
NBC: Greenblatt Wants To Find His New 'Voice'
The CW: Pushing for More Original Programming
Turner: Programs Power Through Upfront Clips Snafu
ESPN: Flexing Its Marketing Muscle

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A near constant rain in New York City may have dampened the
broadcast networks’ upfront week, but after getting their first taste of the
networks’ plans, ad buyers came away with mainly bright expectations.

Chris Geraci, president for national broadcast at media
agency OMD, pronounced this year’s crop as “slightly
better than last year.”

“What I saw was stronger than in the last couple of
years. We’ll see how viewers react,” said Miraj Parikh, VP
and media director at Spark Communications. “CBS was
really strong. They must have a lot of confidence in Person
of Interest
,” the new show that will replace CSI on Thursday
night, the most important night for big-spending advertisers
like automakers, retailers and movie studios.

Parikh also liked programming moves by CBS and Fox
on Saturdays that offer advertisers more options.

The programming was “impressive in a couple of places,”
said Kris Magel, executive VP for national broadcast at
Initiative. “CBS is doing a great job keeping a good thing
going. Fox has a very strong schedule and an opportunity
to add audience in the fourth quarter with The X Factor
and Terra Nova.” And the CW, in the last couple of years,
“has found its brand very successfully,” Magel added.

Expectations have been that the upfront market will be
strong, with price increases on a cost-per-thousand viewer
basis above 10% and sales by the broadcasters topping
$9 billion. Some network executives said they expect the
market to break quickly out of the starting gate with high
demand whipping it towards the finish line.

Media buyers acknowledged that the math of increased
demand and a smaller Nielsen universe would make for
a strong market. But they said the prospect of big price
inflation would slow the deal-making process, which this
year is further complicated by uncertainty over whether
or not (or more probably, when) National Football League
games will be played in the fourth quarter.

All of the networks promoted the power of broadcast to
help build brands and create sales, with most pointing to
research that backs them up. Cable programmers Turner
Broadcasting and ESPN, which also made presentations
last week, made similar claims about their effectiveness.

The upfront presentations “give you confidence in
the power of television, to varying degrees, depending
on the day of the week,” said Shari Cohen, copresident
of Mindshare.

But primarily, the week’s presentations were about
shows for the new season and the networks mostly got
passing grades from the buyers, who will wait to see
full pilots before making final judgments.

With the presentations out of the way, buyers and sellers
are ready to get down to business. Several agency executives
said that they were waiting to get budgets from
clients, and that the budgets they had seen had not yet
certified that the market would be as huge as sellers hoped.

Magel for one said he was tired of hearing how hot the
market is this quarter, and thinking that that should apply
to the upfront. “Everyone needs to keep the full year
picture in mind,” he said, and that prices in the upfront
have to be based on that. “It’s been a strong year for TV,
and it will be a pretty strong year for TV next year.”

Magel noted that clients have found that there is
strong return on investment with national television
advertising, particularly when TV and digital work together.
The combination of electronic media is “pulling
money out of other sectors of the media,” he said.

But Magel added that there are some concerns on
the horizon. Commodity prices are up, and that can
impact brand budgets. Oil prices are up, and that can
curtail consumer spending and affect both gross national
product and business results.

From the buyers’ perspective, there may be some light at
the end of the tunnel in this market. “The people who were
talking about 20% a few weeks ago are talking about 10%
now,” said Aaron Cohen, executive VP for national broadcast
at Horizon Media. “I’ll be biding my time. This isn’t going
to be a three-day turnaround. There’s no reason to make
a fast commitment that turns into a bad commitment.”`

Cable is expected to post even bigger gains and take in
nearly as many dollars as the broadcasters in the upfront
for the first time ever. But some sales execs are concerned
that some cable groups that posted very big ratings gains
over the past year might accept moderate price increases
in order to get advertisers to put more money on the table.

During their presentations, the broadcasters all continued
to talk digital, promising that they could help marketers
get their messages to viewers wherever they watched
shows, whether online, via video on demand or mobile.

Social media was also a huge buzzword during the
week, with networks keeping score on how many fans
and followers they had on outlets including Facebook
and Twitter.

The CW even announced Cwingo, a bingo game that
viewers can access via Facebook and play against their
friends. Players check off scenes from the shows they’re
watching, plus scenes from commercials, which The
CW hopes will benefit sponsors.

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and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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