With ratings down again this primetime season, some are
predicting a tough upfront market for broadcasters, who are facing new
competition from the companies that created the NewFronts to sell digital
video, as well as from cable, whose sales surpassed broadcast in last year's upfront.
But the top sales executives at the broadcast networks would
rather look at signs that point to an improving economy and a strengthening scatter
market as harbingers of decent upfront numbers.
At presentations this week, the broadcasters will look to
put their best foot forward, beguiling buyers with promising new shows and fresh
evidence that an ad campaign without the reach and impact broadcast uniquely
provides is like a day without sunshine.
Media moguls this month have been predicting a robust
upfront, led by perennially sunny CBS Corp. president/CEO Leslie Moonves, who
could not restrain himself from making his annual forecast that America's
Most Watched Network would garner double-digit price increases in the upfront.
That sentiment was echoed by Jo Ann Ross, president for ad
sales at Moonves' broadcast network.
"Everything's looking up here at CBS," Ross told B&C. "We are having back-to-back breakfasts,
lunches and dinners," with clients and buyers. "Everyone wants to sit down and
have a conversation." Ross said the ad market seems solid right now-a good sign
for the upfront. "Second-quarter scatter continues to be strong," she said.
"The demand is there. Budgets are coming in well before flight date."
Geri Wang, president of sales and marketing at ABC, said she
is optimistic because the macroeconomic indicators are good. "The micro detail
rolls up really nicely. And I like our position," she added. "So I'm feeling
very, very good about the upfront."
Like her counterparts, Wang is encouraged by the pilots she
has been screening. "The level of quality across the board for all the scripted
drama and comedy [development] has been really strong," she said. "I'm really excited
we'll be adding to our portfolio."
Some media buyers claim Fox ad sales president Toby Byrne is
in for a rough upfront, however. Fox's ratings are off a disappointing 20% this
season, and its top show, American Idol,
has fallen from its once-dominant position back into the pack, making a drop in
upfront sales almost inevitable. But Byrne also preferred to stay positive in talking
about his inventory.
"Fox still stands alone in terms of differentiation in
several ways from our competitors," Byrne said. "In the younger half of the
18-49 demo, the 18-34 segment, we have a growing advantage versus our broadcast
competitors. We have a social footprint that is second to none in television.
And that speaks to both the involvement of our shows with the audience as well
as how engaged our audience is in our content. So these are things that still
separate us and make Fox a unique proposition."
Byrne also points to the
scatter market for signs the upfront will be OK. "Scatter pricing is healthy,
and there is solid demand for our signature programs, including New Girl, The Following, American Idol and
our Sunday-night lineup," he said.
Both Sides Against
This year, Linda Yaccarino, president of sales for
NBCUniversal, is in a unique spot, heading sales for troubled NBC as well as
NBC's strong roster of cable networks. For years when she worked at Turner, Yaccarino
urged advertisers to buy cable.
"What I always said, which remains true, is that cable is a
terrific complement to broadcast prime," Yaccarino said. "So I think it's
actually a very logical progression that I have been lucky enough to be given this
opportunity here to oversee all of the assets for NBCUniversal so we can sit
here and say, â€˜How do we help you look at your media plans across all our
assets, broadcast, cable and digital, to meet your needs and help you sell
Yaccarino is upbeat about NBC. "We go into the upfront
market with the wind at our backs and some really good momentum from The Voice and Revolution and Chicago Fire,"
she said. "And we are really excited about what we saw in the development
NBCU is set up to sell advertisers packages that reach
consumers using both broadcast and cable. "We're involved in several of those
conversations already," Yaccarino said. "The math tells us there is a shortage
of [gross rating points] in the marketplace and that there is a need to
aggregate and there is a bigger need to aggregate cross-portfolio."
Much of the pre-upfront posturing has involved measurement, particularly
with the networks talking about using Nielsen C7 ratings that count commercials
viewed during seven days of DVR playback instead of the current C3 standard,
which covers three days.
ABC has reportedly been writing C7 business for a while. But
now the broadcasters seem to be downplaying the desirability of C7.
"It's not going to be one size fits all. I think most of our
business will be written on C3 [ratings], but there are probably a handful of
clients, depending on what their inclination is, [that] look at C7," CBS' Ross
Yaccarino said NBC is open to having conversations about C7
with clients. But she adds, "I don't think that that is at all a real solution
to the measurement crisis that we have on our hands." Yaccarino added that a
"signi"cant" amount of NBCUniversal's audience is watching content on
devices that currently are unmeasured.
"I think that's a problem. The trend seems to indicate that
viewing on those devices will continue to grow," Yaccarino said. "I do think we
have a crisis since historically, measurement has lagged behind consumer
behavior. So it has become an acute need to drive toward total measurement. And
that's where we as an industry need to come together to push progress in this
area. And I think Comcast NBCUniversal is uniquely positioned to push that
Whether Measured Or Not
As more viewers watch network shows online or on mobile devices
including tablets and smartphones, the broadcasters are including some of those
digital impressions in the audiences they guarantee their upfront advertisers.
Fox calls that fluidity. "Our fluidity model is broadly
accepted, providing one-stop shopping here for wherever our content is
distributed, on whatever platform," Byrne said.
Clients are looking at TV, digital and other media to put
together multiplatform campaigns, and broadcasters want to be part of that
"The whole world is cross-platform-that's what it's about,"
Wang said. "We've evolved and enhanced the offering."
The networks have beefed up their integrated marketing
staffs to create innovative offerings for advertisers that are demanding plans
including more than 30-second spots from their media partners.
"The key to innovation is not just doing more of it, it's
about doing it well. It's a win-win for the clients and us when we have enough
lead time to really understand what their brand brief is and to actually get
into the planning guts of it," said Ross. "Whether they want the integration to
start on broadcast within a show and then have arms and legs through webisodes,
on CBS.com or any of our other assets, whether it goes to mobile, whether it
crosses divisions, our team is very involved in it. I think we have a good
reputation with the bigger clients that have done that type of thing with us."
Yaccarino said NBCU has a creative marketing team of 50 to
60 people to "amplify across the entire company the marketing activation of all
our assets." She said it's a priority "to deliver on the marketing piece for our
customers that they have been asking for in a bigger and better way for a while.
We're finally able to deliver that to them."
In addition to primetime, the networks sell their other dayparts
during the upfront.
ABC is upbeat about its late night and early morning
Kimmel's Time to
While Jimmy Kimmel's irreverent rants about the advertising
sales process have been a fixture at ABC's upfronts, this is the first year the
network will be selling Kimmel as its 11:35
p.m. late-night anchor.
"We think Jimmy is on the ascendency. He is the funniest guy
in show business. We couldn't be more excited to have him be the centerpiece of
our late-night strategy," said ABC's Wang. "We definitely expect a share shift
over to Jimmy based on what he has been able to accomplish."
Late-night will also be a big deal for NBC, where Jay Leno
will be stepping down from the Tonight
Show and succeeded by Jimmy Fallon.
"We're very excited about the continuation of the strength
of NBC in this daypart as the No. 1 for so many years," Yaccarino said. NBCU's late-night
dominance goes beyond NBC, she adds. "When you look at that and you add Andy
Cohen [whose show is on Bravo] and you add Chelsea Handler [on E!] and when you
look across [our] late-night daypart, you see a lot of great opportunity from
an audience perspective and from a marketing sponsorship perspective."
ABC's Wang feels the same way about Good Morning America. GMA
has overtaken NBC's Today as the
ratings leader among breakfast news shows, and Wang anticipates a similar shift
in ad dollars in the upfront. "We're also expecting the same thing from GMA," she said.
The nets will also be selling sports to advertisers. "The
sports marketplace is very healthy. I think there's likely going to be volume
growth," said Fox's Byrne. "Naturally, it's always exciting when [your network
has] the Super Bowl, and it being in New York
[next February] is fantastic. Also, the launching of Fox Sports 1 is an
incredibly exciting endeavor. We think there's an appetite in the marketplace
for additional players in the space."
NBC Sports will be offering Sunday Night Football, the top-rated primetime program, and the
2014 Winter Olympics from Socci, Russia.
"We have asset after asset, league after league, sport after
sport. It's such a great portfolio to have the opportunity to represent,"
"Do the customers we talk to who we have a lot of
long-standing relationships with want to look at NBCUniversal as a whole
The answer is, of course," Yaccarino added. "And when it
makes sense and we can meet each others' needs, the answer is, of course we
have those conversations. But it's all about delivering what the customer needs,
and that's what we're focusing on right now."