It's That Time Again

Upfront season set to kick off with Oxygen event

A sure sign of the season appeared
in media buyers' inboxes
last week: an invitation to
Oxygen Media’s upfront event on Feb. 5.

“Once the calendar turns, a young
man’s mind turns to thoughts of the upfront,
unfortunately,” says Todd Gordon,
executive VP and U.S. director for Magna
Global, the media negotiating unit for
agency conglomerate Interpublic Group.

Media buying is a 52-week-a-year business,
but the bulk of commercials are sold
during the upfront each spring. Early indications
from analysts, buyers and ad sales
executives are that this year’s upfront will
be much like last year’s, in which advertisers
committed to buy almost $9 billion
worth of ad time on broadcast and nearly
$10 billion on cable.

0121 Upfront chart

The ink was barely dry on last year’s upfront
deals when planning began in earnest
for 2013. “It doesn’t take long before
people are saying, ‘When are we going to
do planning costs?” Gordon says.

Neil Vendetti, senior VP and managing
director of national video at media
agency Zenith, says: “You maybe have
December to take a little break. And now
we’re in the heart of pre-planning and
really starting to think about our upfront
approach. It never really ends.

“We’re starting to see a few program
development meetings getting scheduled,”
Vendetti adds. “You cringe when
you see those first emails come in.”

Last year, Oxygen, part of NBCUniversal,
held its upfront event in April. This
year, the network is piggybacking its upfront
onto a launch party for The Face, its
new supermodel competition series.

The Face launches in February, “and
we wanted to have a launch party,” says
Jane Olson, senior VP of marketing and
brand strategy for Oxygen. “A lot of our
clients were really interested in it, and it
just seemed like a natural. It was close
enough to the upfront where we could
use it as an opportunity to get messaging
out about all our programming and sort
of best the crowd in the upfront space.”

The event is just part of Oxygen’s upfront
effort, which has become a yearround
strategy of providing information
to busy media buyers and planners in
their own offices as it pumps up its reputation
as a network for reaching young
female viewers.

“One of our strategies was to really
speak to our agency partners and say what
kind of information are you looking for
from us and how do you want to receive it,” Olson says. “The plan this year is really
geared at serving them up the kinds
of things they’re interested in knowing
and how we can help them be smarter
and better at their jobs and doing it in a
way that’s easy for them to digest.”

But before things get too crazy in
April and getting to parties becomes a
hassle, Oxygen hopes buyers will come
to its event at the recently reopened Marquee
nightclub in Manhattan. On hand
will be The Face model-coaches Naomi
Campbell, Karolína Kurková and Coco
Rocha, plus a lot of folks from the fashion
world, given that Fashion Week
kicks off two days later, on Feb. 7. Personalities
from other
Oxygen shows will also
attend. “It will be a big
red carpet,” Olson says.

It might be early
to try to forecast how
this year’s upfront will
play out, but Pivotal
Research analyst Brian
Wieser, a former agency
forecaster, is willing
to take a shot. After
surviving the fiscal cliff threat, which
would have negatively impacted the
media business, advertisers are roughly
in the same place as they were last year,
Weiser says.

“I think the only difference is that
advertisers have a hair trigger on their
decision-making,” he says. “That means
nobody’s really going to know scatter
till the last possible minute. But when it
comes to the upfront, it’s the opposite.
They’re convinced they need to commit,
so they commit.”

That means, like last year, most budgets
will continue to be brought forward
in the upfront marketplace.

“If everything plays out as it has historically,
my benchmark is to assume it will
be about a flat market for network TV,”
Wieser says. And "at market suggests
high single-digit price increases for the
broadcast net with the most inventory.

“As long as the economy continues
to create brands that differentiate
themselves on the basis of awareness
of unique attributes, there will be new
advertisers that disproportionately
value broadcast network
reach. And always, the most efficient way to satisfy that goal
will be packages of network
TV inventory,” Wieser says.

That same dynamic should
mean more money heading to
cable from big advertisers who
use it to satisfy or supplement
their reach goals; they need to
balance flat budgets with the
fact that network TV continues
to rise in pricing, Wieser notes.

Zenith’s Vendetti says he is
anticipating moderate volume
growth in the upfront. “The media
and ad economy is a little
bit insulated from the general economy,
and one of the toughest things in a lot of
cases to explain to clients,” he says.

Key issues that might affect negotiation
include the growing impact of
digital video and measurement issues.

Digital video has become more important
as traditional TV ratings decline on
mobile devices. “I think that if you are
willing to keep your options open and
willing to play the market, then there’s
plenty of eyeballs to find and plenty of
value to be had,” Magna’s Gordon says.

Zenith expects to pay one price
for eyeballs, wherever they’re watching.
“Our point of view is, we have
established pricing based on our TV
deals, and that’s the established rate
for putting an ad in that content, and
we’re looking for pricing parity across
screens,” Vendetti says.

Networks will also be looking to
monetize more delayed DVR viewing
by switching to the C7 metric, which
counts commercial viewing up to seven
days after air.

“For advertisers who might not
change their copy out, might not have a
retail message, or might not be trying to
drive people based on a time-sensitive
event, then I think C7 is definitely a
discussion that should be happening.
We’ve had those discussions with clients
since the advent of C3,” Vendetti
says. “But I think it’s obviously not a
one-size-fits-all situation, and the vendors
I’ve spoken to understand that.”

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