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Memo From the Ultimate Upfront Market-Watcher

Spark SMG’s John Muszynski suggests keeping an eye on digital and audience estimates 5/13/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

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Media buyer John Muszynski, a 2011 B&C
Hall of Fame inductee, said he is looking
forward to upfront week. Among other
reasons, he is excited to see if
the programming the networks
plan to add to their schedules
will push the ratings needle
forward. "Really, the only way
to save this whole situation and
start changing the conversation
we're having is if the broadcast
networks hit on some really
strong shows and they start
bringing the viewers back,"
said Muszynski, chief investment
officer for Spark.
But Muszynski, who has years of upfronts
under his belt, cautions that everyone would
be wise to keep an eye on several other
aspects of the market as well.

Digital really matters: "We're seeing more
and more money move from traditional television
to digital video," Muszynski said. How
much? "There were certain agencies, I know
SMG was one of them, we moved a fair
amount of money [to digital] and networks
felt the movement of that money," he said.
Some dollars are going to the big media
companies and the networks' full-episode
players. "But that's not really where the bulk
of the volume is going," Muszynski
adds. "The bulk is going to
other places, whether that's the
major portals or in short form."
The spending shift is not intended
to send some sort of message
to the networks or a gambit to
moderate price increases. "This
is about following the consumer,"
he said. "They're ahead of us in a
lot of cases in terms of their acceptance
of new technology. So
we've got to be able to anticipate
and aggressively follow them and hopefully
even get out ahead of them. And that's why
[Spark SMG has] invested so heavily into
technology and doing research and buying
data and looking at all the different innovative
opportunities that exist out there."

Lots of second-screen talk: "I think a
lot of people will be talking about secondscreen
and enhancements to the experience,"
Muszynski said. "We're way out
ahead of that. We've been doing exhaustive
research on second-screen and we've been
doing cross-platform deals for years. I think
you're going to hear more people touting
that stuff, and that they finally can do it and
they can measure it. There's going to be a lot
of that conversation. I don't think that's going
to have a big impact on the market, though."

Beware the audience estimates: With
ratings down again this season for the
broadcast networks, "the biggest ‘watch out'
goes to buyers who aren't paying real close
attention to the ratings estimates," Muszynski
said. "Because the networks might feel
that the only way they can make it is if they
jack up and inflate their ratings estimate and
just hope to God that these shows take off.
Well, when they don't, the advertiser's sitting
there with missing their point goals, erratic
delivery [done] not according to plan, and
the quality of inventory you're getting back
in exchange is generally not as good as what
you initially bought. So one of the things we'll
be watching out very carefully for is their
rating estimates vs. ours. We always look
at that. But I'm anticipating this is going to
be a year where they're really going to jack
around with that."

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