ABC Touts Programming, Platforms, Ad Performance

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ABC brought out the hard sell at its upfront Tuesday, pushing the power of the ABC brand, the programming developed under new entertainment president Paul Lee and its ability to help advertisers sell their goods.

“There has never been a better time to invest in the power of ABC,” said Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, who opened the presentation on Tuesday at Lincoln Center in New York.

 Sweeney said that ABC programming creates opportunities for sponsors to connect with hundreds of millions of people. It generated 70 billion impressions on television, another 3.5 billion via the full episode player and 100 million from ABC’s iPad app.

“We’re inventing the technology to integrate your ads into our shows on new platforms,” she said.

ABC ad sales president Geri Wang added that, “advertising on ABC really works,” pointing to the studies that showed that emotional attachment to ABC programming was “the highest in the business.” As a result, when the same ad airs on ABC and another channel, it generates higher recall and likability for brands, especially compared to cable competitors. “At the end of the day, we move your product,” Wang said. “Viewers buy more of a brand when it’s associated with ABC.”

Wang said ABC has invested in studying advertising effectiveness at its AdLab, running tests across multiple screens. “An ad on ABC works no matter what the screen,” she said. More studies will be conducted to learn more about viewers using the iPad, she added.

Lee then introduced a schedule he said was appropriate for these times, filled with superheroes, monsters and fairly tales. (Not getting much attention was ABC’s big changes in daytime, where long running soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live are being replaced by talk shows. Soap fans protested ABC’s decision, blowing whistles and waving signs.)

As usual, the executive work was nearly undone by late night host Jimmy Kimmel, who mocked the whole upfront dance.  “Remember all those shows we were so excited about last fall? We cancelled all of them, and yet here you are again. I think you might have a gambling problem,” he said.

He also tore into Lee, who he said he’d like to meet someday. “Who better to lead the American Broadcasting Company than an English guy with a Korean last name?”

He poked fun at shows on the ABC schedule including Pan Am, questioning the wisdom of a show named after a bankrupt airline. And he noted that the original Charlie’s Angels was popular with men in an era when men “didn’t have Internet porn yet.”

“I can’t promise these show will be good. I can’t promise the shows will be successful. I can promise they will be expensive to advertise on,” he said.

Kimmel also ripped into the other networks.

He said that he’d heard an NBC exec thanked God for The Voice. “God has nothing to do with what’s going on at NBC. God stopped watching NBC after Friends.”

Kimmel added that NBC was selling ads via Groupon and that buyers could get a commercial and a Thai massage for $45.

He called Fox’s X FactorAmerican Idol meets a mirror,” adding “I think this is the best idea of 2002.”

While network television overall is losing viewers to digital, CBS is losing them to natural causes, Kimmel cracked. “More people die watching CBS than any other network,” he said. The network is No. 1, he said, because its viewers “can’t remember where they put the remote.”

Ad buyers noted that there had been a change in ABC’s approach since Lee replaced Steve McPherson as programming head. One buyer said that while McPherson was interested only in shows that could be breakthroughs, many which ultimately didn’t return for a second season, Lee has produced a number of shows that could be singles or doubles. The presentation was also clearer, the buyer added.

Another buyer noted that it was odd that ABC chose to compare itself to cable networks, rather than its broadcast competition. While ads on ABC were more effective, they were also much more expensive than ads on cable, the buyer said. “You’ve got to be careful when you throw numbers around.”