The 2014-15 Upfront season is scheduled to blossom on March 4, according to the Weather Channel’s current forecast. Weather Channel’s parent, The Weather Co., is holding its presentation for advertisers early because it has a multifaceted pitch to make and doesn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Last year, the company held an upfront for its TV network and participated in the NewFronts for its digital products. This coming year, The Weather Co. will combine both into a single event that it’s calling an AllFront.
At this point it appears, based on the calendar kept by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, that the Weather Channel’s March shindig will launch the upfront season, a series of events ranging from serious presentations to parties with music and drink, all designed to persuade media buyers and their clients where to spend their marketing dollars. The early CAB calendar already lists 21 events. While the networks also meet one-on-one with clients and agency planners and buyers, a memorable event is a good way to make an impression.
Generally, cable networks go first and lead up to the broadcasters’ upfronts week in May. In the last few years, however, that week has been infiltrated by cablers Turner Broadcasting and ESPN and punctuated by USA Network.
In 2013, there were four upfront events scheduled for February, months before most ad sales deals are negotiated in June. It is possible that networks will still hold events in February. Three of the four events held that month last year were thrown by NBCUniversal networks. At this point, only one of NBCU’s entertainment networks appears on the CAB calendar. An NBCU representative had no comment on the upfront plans of networks including USA, E!, Oxygen and Esquire. Syfy wants buyers to hold the date of March 25.
Under ad sales president Linda Yaccarino, NBCU has been pushing a portfolio sell to convince clients and buyers they can reach customers by using a combination of NBCU’s broadcast, cable and digital assets. Earlier this year, the group reorganized its sales force into bundles of networks based on their programming.
NBCU could opt to hold an event at which all its brands would be represented or continue to have events for each network to reinforce their assets and give buyers and clients an opportunity to hear about their plans from their senior executives. Last year, NBCU CEO Steve Burke gamely attended nearly all of his networks’ events for ad buyers, but he would probably prefer to make fewer public appearances.
Looking to Shine
Weather Channel, on the other hand, wants its place in the sun. The Weather Co. has been investing in data and analytics to show how the weather affects its clients’ business, whether they are in fast food, retail or pharmaceuticals. “We wanted to go so early because it’s a pretty comprehensive message that we’re doing,” says Chris Raleigh, Weather Co. senior VP of cable and cross-platform ad sales.
After doing a separate upfront and NewFront last year, feedback from most clients and agencies was that they didn’t want to sit through two presentations from a single media company.
Weather will also be reviewing the TV network’s new programming, including the way it offers a local forecast via a crawl, which means viewers don’t have to wait for local weather on the eights every 10 minutes. Since the new format was launched last month, Raleigh says length of tune-in is up, which is good for both the network and its sponsors.
While some networks are consistent regarding whether or not to hold a big upfront presentation, others change plans year to year. For example, Reelz Network, which wasn’t on the CAB calendar in 2013, has set April 9 as its date for an upfront event.
On the other hand, FX Networks, which held a major presentation last year to introduce media buyers to its new suite of channels— FX, FXX, FXM—is likely to return to its strategy of holding individual meetings with agency buyers and clients. Next year, a big part of the FX message will be selling The Simpsons, slated to appear on cable for the first time on FXX starting in fall 2014.
FX is likely to continue its tradition of holding an upfront bowling party where media buyers can mix with the stars of its original shows. Homer Simpson might not be on hand, but surely he would approve.