Television Upfronts On Life Support

A very smart friend who transitioned from cutting-edge interactive strategy consulting at a prestigious New York firm to general marketing strategy at a mega healthcare and consumer package company called me to see if I’d be available for a drink while he’s in New York for the television upfronts next week. It seems odd to invest an entire week listening to sales pitches from television executives – for shows and lineups that inevitably will change or cancel halfway through their intended run. I asked him the rationale and he responded:

Yeah, the upfronts are becoming more obsolete every year.

I asked why  people still attend them, and he said:

I don’t really know. Things are changing, though.

Very true, says John Consoli in today’s Adweek:

This year’s television upfront buying negotiations could turn into the most confusing, difficult and drawn out ever, said media buyers and network sales executives. Just one week before the broadcast networks make their presentations for the 2007-08 season, virtually everything is in a state of flux, including negotiating currency and how much money each client plans to spend across all television.

All the glitter and optimism from the media-seller execs is a twisted scenario when you think about what all this volatility comes down to: selling less audience, less predictability and less effectiveness for the same or more money. Whatever the outcome, digital will be the big disruptor of the old model, as well as the catalyst for new opportunities.

Says Jack Feuer in Variety:

Media buyers and sellers are calling it “the wheel.” It’s the idea that you don’t just buy television anymore, especially network television. What you do, instead, is use the network as the hub of a wheel. Then digital and other emerging platform opportunities become the “spokes.”…That’s a real difference from 2006’s upfront discussions, in which the nets were digital dabblers, offering online and other digital components as add-ons, mostly on an ad hoc basis.

But wheels tend to spin round and round and be fluid, which requires a sales and planning platform very different from the antiquated 1950s broadcast upfont which struggles on today.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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