Fox, Madison Ave.Sorting Out 'Idol' Fallout

Buyers renegotiate as Fox’s midseason move disrupts ad schedules across the grid
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Fox’s midseason bombshell shifting American Idol to Wednesday and Thursday sent rival scheduling executives scrambling. But now with the dust settled, there is work to be done on another front as about 1,600 commercials worth nearly $1 billion also have to be moved.

For advertisers and media buyers, that means reviewing media plans and rearranging schedules set in the upfront that determined where about 80% of the $400,000 spots would air.

In some cases, clients will get upgrades when, for example, their Idol spots move to Thursday, a more desirable night for advertisers because it’s closer to weekend shopping and more people tune in.

The shift also means that advertisers who paid premium prices for commercials on other networks’ Thursday- night schedules have to go back to those networks, figure out how viewership will be affected, and haggle over how to get all the eyeballs they originally paid for.

Idol draws TV’s highest ratings, and its spots are the most expensive in primetime. But buyers familiar with preemptions, cancellations and other schedule changes that take place all season long say that despite its magnitude, they’re taking Fox’s move in stride.

“If I take any schedule on any network where I talk about having units on specific shows, I’ve got to believe that 60 to 70% of that changes from when you place it in June till when it actually runs,” says Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at media agency GroupM. “This is what the folks in the national broadcast groups do for a living, which is manage what we call a living schedule. It doesn’t stop. That’s really what it’s all about, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s unusually hectic. We’re mindful of big changes that have big impact, but it’s not the only one that’s going to have a big impact,” says Ava Jordhamo, president of execution at Zenith Media. “It will have an impact on live viewing on Thursday night, and Thursday night is certainly an important night for a lot of advertisers. Surely if you buy a big Idol package, you’re going to have a negotiation. If you’re buying something that’s scheduled opposite where Idol lands, you’re going to have to adjust estimates for what that is accordingly. It’s all a negotiation.”

Most Idol sponsors’ ads will move to the new days. “Everyone’s deal is different, but typically in a situation like this you would just move with the show,” says Todd Gordon, senior VP and managing director of national broadcast at Initiative Media.

But some clients might want other adjustments, or seek preemption credits. “You really have to analyze who you’re buying for and which show you’re buying to really determine what the impact is. I don’t think there’s a cookie-cutter answer for every client and for every show,” says Jordhamo. That said, some Idol sponsors might be better off with the switch. “It’s tough to say now whether anybody’s gotten a really big upgrade,” Jordhamo adds. “The people that bought Idol might have a better Idol opportunity now than they had prior to the rescheduling.” The move could also benefit sponsors of Fox’s Bones, which will follow Idol on Thursdays.

More impacted are advertisers that paid an average of $122,163 (according to Advertising Age) for commercials in Fringe, which Fox is moving from Thursday to Friday— a night often seen as a graveyard for network shows.

“If Fringe is a show that you think works well for your target, and there’s a really strong core audience that’s going to follow it to Friday, then you’d be perfectly happy moving with the show,” says Initiative’s Gordon. “For an upfront advertiser, your deal is guaranteed, so if you make that move and you do lose ratings on Friday, they’ll be made good someplace else in the schedule. There may be other advertisers that [bought spots in Fringe] strictly because it was a Thursday show, and then it becomes a negotiation.”

Because broadcasters sold more commercials than usual during the upfront, and with Fox’s ratings down in the fourth quarter, there are few places to accommodate advertisers trying to change their schedules. Still, negotiations have not been contentious. “They’re being smart, and I always find them to be accommodating,” Jordhamo says of Fox. “They’re tough negotiators, but I’ve always found them to be fair and reasonable.” Fox, which at the end of the year will replace retiring sales chief Jon Nesvig with Toby Byrne, had no comment.

Overall, buyers see the Idol schedule change as a positive. “More GRPs on Thursday is in general a good thing that’s welcomed by the marketplace,” Gordon says. “It will be interesting to see what the competitive fallout is from that, but I think in general it’s a good thing. And hopefully [Fox will] be able to build really high-rated nights Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which would be to everyone’s benefit.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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