TV Upfront 2009: More Questions Than Ever Before

Upfront market questions keep media analysts awake at night this time of year. Maybe what we need is a good night's sleep -- until around August.

That's how long this marketplace could last, with TV sellers bracing for a long march into the summer heat. No one is rushing to make deals.

One cable network executive recently told TV Watch that he'll take "flat" right now, no questions asked. That refers to the cost-per-thousand-viewers price increases -- where the rubber meets the road for many TV sellers.

On the other side of the aisle, a media buyer told TV Watch quite bluntly: "We are out for blood this year. We don't get too many markets like this."

The thinking is, media agencies' clients have seen the widespread suffering of businesses during this economy -- which should tickle down to all levels of the economy. This means TV. Advertisers want the rare benefit of major price rollbacks.



"They tell me 'Our businesses have been hit with lower pricing, [so] why should I pay higher pricing to the networks?'" notes the buyer.

This has been a road well-traveled in TV upfront circles -- a TV advertising market hanging on someone's version of the supply and demand formula. This means whatever "supply" the networks want to sell (at a given time) versus whatever "demand" TV marketers want to spend (at a given time).

Total upfront broadcast dollar volume was down last year -- and by some estimates, the year before. Experts say the direction most definitely is looking southward again this year -- because of the economy's definitely weakened state.

Still, this doesn't mean the death knell of the $9 billion upfront broadcast advertising process (or, according to media buyers, more like an $8.2 billion to $8.5 billion market.)

Hopeful TV sellers, such as David Levy, president of Turner Broadcast Sales and Turner Sports, say no one really knows where the market is right now. And he isn't alone. Media buyers again have fewer clues -- getting media budgets from their clients later and later during the upfront process.

Working late at night? No one wants to snooze on the job. Perhaps in this market -- with more questions than ever -- everyone should rest up with a little nap.

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