Will there be a widespread shortage of national commercial TV inventory for sale this upfront period?
A broad range of TV sales executives
-- from broadcast to cable to
syndication -- are already toying with using the ultimate supply-and-demand sales tool: selling less inventory
With roughly $8.5 billion in broadcast, $7 billion in cable, and $3 billion in syndication upfront dollars at stake, sellers are talking about holding back anywhere from 25% to 30%
of TV ad inventory for sale.
The aim is to wait out the doldrums of the economy until things recover -- all to make sure that the precious cost-per-thousand prices on particular programs
are kept above water -- as opposed to giving "rollbacks," or, in other words, price cuts.
A few years ago one network, CBS, sold far less inventory in the upfront -- 55% to 60% versus its
typical 75% to 80% -- under the direction of Mel Karmazin. Karmazin made it work, selling the extra supply of inventory in the scatter market at higher prices than CBS would have received during the
upfront selling period.
One might question whether there is opportunity in this market -- that perhaps billions of intended TV dollars might be sitting on the sidelines. TV marketers won't
be shifting money in droves to YouTube or Hulu (where presumably the NBC/News Corp. venture will keep the supply lines open in contrast to the traditional network offerings). That marketplace isn't
quite ready yet.
Some money will indeed shift, which may just work into marketers' long-term plans. Maybe -- once and for all -- they'll try other avenues or processes, such as
buying more scatter national TV inventory, local TV, radio, outdoor, search, or whatever.
For years TV sellers' promotion of upfront deals has been built on the premise that scatter markets
deals mean higher pricing most of the time -- and no rating guarantees, as with upfront deals.
But the irony is that the massive cutting of available TV inventory this upfront may force
marketers -- already looking beyond the recession -- to make some major media planning and buying changes. No, they are not going to abandon TV -- just perhaps more of their upfront money.
In this world of fractionalized TV viewing, it seems we're finally headed for a more fractionalized national TV advertising marketplace as well