After Upfronts, Networks May Face Flat Ad Market

Quantity of quality content gives media buyers more choices
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Media buyers attending last week’s upfront presentations were pleased to see the broadcast networks continue to churn out hours of premium content but said that ad spending on TV for next season was likely to be flat or down.

“What changes is the way the pie gets split up,” said John Nitti, president for activation at media agency Zenith, among those predicting that the market would be flat.

“We’re expecting spending in broadcast to be down. We’re expecting cable to be up a little bit,” said Todd Gordon, executive VP and U.S. director for Magna Global. “The signs are for a pretty moderate marketplace.”

Catherine Warburton, chief investment officer at Assembly, said that clients are waiting till the last moment to commit to budgets. “But we definitely have a feel that the market is not going to be particularly strong,” she said. “Also there are so many different options for your dollars, so I think it’s going to be a slow-to-moderately paced marketplace.”

Ad sales executives noted that buyers usually downplay the strength of the market and most of the money that vanishes from the upfront is likely to resurface in the scatter market.

But all of the networks were not equal, based on last year’s performance. NBC was on the rise, buyers said, and CBS remained solid. ABC and Fox had some work to do. Nevertheless, the way the market works, most advertisers would be loath to move too much money away from one of the struggling networks for fear of losing their current base price and having to pay more when ratings rebound.

Cracking Wise

Upfront week was marked by familiar scenes: Buyers taking selfies with celebrities; partygoers eating mini-sliders, sushi and cupcakes; and late-night comedians making fun of the whole shebang. David Letterman, at what may be his last CBS upfront, confessed, “I don’t know who you people are or why you come here.” At ABC, Jimmy Kimmel let buyers know what programmatic buying means for their future: “You’ll be working at Applebee’s in two years.”

But most of what top buyers wanted to see was this year’s crop of shows, now referred to as “content.” Some of this content could be “eventized,” a buzzword that made its way from network to network

“One of the ways they were creating event television was creating short-run limited series,” said Jackie Kulesza, senior VP and group director for video at Starcom. Short series allow broadcasters “to adopt more of a cable model and it could create buzz and excitement when it moves over to one of the overthe- top platforms,” she said. “It’s allowing the networks to continue to have more originals on the air, which is good for the advertisers.”

The networks also have “more aggressive summer schedules across the board and many backup series. I see that as encouraging,” Gordon said.

“Good storytelling is still very important,” said Chris Geraci, president for national broadcast at media agency OMD. “It’s great to see the talent level as high as it is,” he added, noting that people from the film world in front of and behind the camera are now working in ad-supported media.

“Give them credit for talking about how difficult it is to do programming. We’ve seen the failure rate,” Geraci said. This year, more companies are trying to get into the programming business, such as Yahoo and Amazon. “Folks doing it for the first time should understand that.”

Some TV money may shift to digital players who have premium content, but some will stay with the digital and multiplatform arms of the traditional TV players. “There will be a fair amount of that,” Geraci said. “As the pricing begins to make more and more sense, we’re getting pretty efficient deals when you roll it all up.”

Zenith’s Nitti noticed that NBCUniversal under Linda Yaccarino was pushing the multiplatform sales of all of the company’s assets, and found it interesting to see ABC’s ad sales president Geri Wang and ESPN’s sales chief Ed Erhardt sharing the stage at their respective upfront presentations. Fox and CBS had more traditional events, he noted.

Assembly’s Warburton said the presentations “fit the brands of the individual networks.” She added that compared to a few years ago, she noticed the networks now embrace non-traditional viewing as a new way to reach viewers. “Bottom line from an agency investment point of view, we want to put our advertising in the most engaging content and it doesn’t matter where the person’s consuming it,” she said.

Whole New Approaches

During their upfront presentation, sales execs talked about new approaches to buying and selling advertising.

At ABC, Wang announced the launch of a trial of programmatic ad buying. “We’re creating a private marketplace for our TV customers, allowing you to reserve ABC digital video using your buyer platform,” she said.

At Fox, Toby Byrne, president of sales, warned about the deceptive practices of non-premium online video providers and emphasized the “value of the highquality environment of our prime programming and that extends to our non-linear platforms, where your brands are always in an environment you can trust, and in the specific programming you have chosen.”

Byrne also talked up VOD. “We’ve made great progress over the last year and now have dynamic ad insertion for 75% of our VOD impressions, covering 19 of the top 20 markets,” he said. “The audience is growing significantly. VOD is TV and we all need to be there.”

Yaccarino, president of sales for NBCUniversal, pushed portfolio-wide partnerships, including the Symphony marketing machine. “A portfolio-wide partnership with NBCUniversal can do things for your product sales and ROI that no one else can do. We proved it. It works. And it works by a mile,” Yaccarino said. “A year ago we envisioned the beginning of a new era in media. And that’s exactly what we have today.”

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