Many TV network executives are predicting a strong upfront, pointing to big price increases in the scatter market. Executives at Pop, the joint venture of CBS and Lionsgate formerly known as the TV Guide Network, say scatter prices are up 60% from last year’s upfront levels.
“A year ago, we were talking about rebranding and launching this new network and all of our dreams and goals and why this was going to be an exciting new television experience,” says Pop president Brad Schwartz. “Here we are a year later, and we’re really proud of all the results.”
Pop won’t do a big upfront event. Instead, its sales team will be making 175 individual presentations to buyers and clients between now and in May when CBS does its annual extravaganza at Carnegie Hall.
Beyond touting the results, says Schwartz, the message will be more about the rubber meeting the road. “This year, it’s a lot less spin and a lot less showmanship and a lot more ‘here are all the reasons why you should be spending money with us,’” he says.
While ratings at most cable networks are down, Pop’s ratings are up and its distribution is increasing. It is adding original content in a fresh, advertiser-friendly environment. “And we’re doing all of this at a more efficient entry point than all of those other channels,” Schwartz says, using ad-speak to say rates are low.
Pop plans to air 400 hours of original content. Scripted shows include comedy legend Eugene Levy’s Schitt’s Creek, which just started season 2 and attracts a lot of attention. The show was picked up for a third season and spawned an online morning show offshoot starring Chris Elliott called Wake Up With the Schitts.
The pitch is that advertisers should shift spending to a network that’s growing, and away from the more established and higher priced lifestyle networks aimed at women that are under-delivering and owe make-goods. (While most advertisers now are guaranteed on women 25-54, the network is trying to attract more of what it calls Modern Grownups in the adult 18-49 demo.)
Michael DuPont, Pop executive VP for ad sales, says that just by announcing the new brand, a third of its upfront advertisers last year were new. In the calendar upfront 50% of its advertisers were new. The network set conservative estimates to ensure that it would deliver for sponsors, he said, which should make it easy to get scatter advertisers into this year’s upfront.
DuPont expects to focus on pushing the new net’s prices higher. “We’ve got the right offering at the right time in the right marketplace with what’s happening to our competitors,” he says.
Pop gets a bit of help from CBS. DuPont has regular meetings with CBS’ president of ad sales Jo Ann Ross. While they don’t do joint sales, “that’s where I hear more about industry trends or things that are working in the marketplace,” he says. CBS also helps them get into upfront conversations earlier than a small independent network might otherwise.
Pop is also advertiser-friendly in creating branded content with sponsors to keep viewers tuned in during commercial breaks. Two such efforts in that regard include rebuilding the Schitt’s Creek set for online shopping site Hautelook.com, and getting one of the finalists in its a cappella competition Sing It On to perform for Ricola cough drops.
Schwartz says the network will have four original series per quarter. “It tells audiences that there’s always something on all year long and we’re playing with a lot of bigger channels once we’re at that point,” he says.
Building on the success of Schitt’s Creek, Pop has another scripted comedy in Nightcap starring Ali Wentworth as a producer on a late-night show. Wentworth has been able to attract notables such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Rudd and Sarah Jessica Parker as guests on the fictional program.
Given all the changes in the real-life late-night talk circuit, the series should have cultural resonance, Schwartz says. That should attract publicity and possibly sponsors.
Also coming is Hollywood Darlings, a doc-comedy featuring former child stars Jodie Sweetin of Full House, Christine Larkin of Step by Step and Beverley Mitchell of 7th Heaven.
In development is The Joey McIntyre Project, featuring the former New Kids on the Block singer trying to become an actor, but winding up a daytime talk-show host.