Upfront 2009: Script Getting More Flexible -- And It Hasn't Got An Ending Yet

Flexibility seems to be this year's upfront calling card for TV marketers.

It's not just lower cost-per-thousand-viewer prices. Marketers increasingly want to come and go as they please with little penalty or premium, being able to fully adjust their TV commercial schedules.

They also want as much time as possible to prepare for the upfront -- which means giving a lot less time to their media buyers -- to get the best reads on sales results for their specific businesses.

In part, a full range of marketers now want the kind of flexibility the movie studios currently have with their TV media plans. What's a studio's typical media plan? It changes virtually every day, especially in the key four- to six week period before a film opens.

For years movie studios have paid a premium to move around, to delay, and, ultimately, to be able to cancel inventory.  Marketers have envied studios for everything except the high pricing.

But in this marketplace, the words "high pricing" aren't on anyone's lips. Already the networks have been sensing some of this. For example, many gave marketers more time to decide on their second quarter upfront options this year.

From all estimations, this will be a difficult marketplace for most TV networks, with many wanting to hold the line when it comes to cost-per-thousand price increases.  Estimates are that broadcast and cable networks will be looking at anywhere from 2% to 7% CPM reductions.

One wonders whether pricing could be maintained if the networks give marketers the flexibility they want. Maybe this comes in the form of allowing adjustments of "holds" leading into the new broadcast season, or relaxing the no cancellation fourth quarter upfront buying rules, or letting marketers move to a calendar year media scenario without any significant premiums over upfront market deals.

The interesting part in all of this is that movie advertising on TV is a category all by itself - and, it looks to be one of the only major TV advertising categories that will increase its TV spending during this year's upfront activities.

Not only that -- but those same film advertisers hope to be in the driver's seat when it comes to the better creative they give to networks and their still-evolving commercial ratings currency.

For all marketers, the script isn't finished yet.



2 comments about "Upfront 2009: Script Getting More Flexible -- And It Hasn't Got An Ending Yet".
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  1. Marianne Paskowski from Self employed, April 27, 2009 at 10:01 p.m.

    Maybe the upfront needs to remodel itself for what it really is, a gamble not unlike the stock market. In particular, why not give buyers options that give them opportunities to cover calls, or "rent out" the ad avails they bought and buy protection with put orders in place for the downside.

    Not so sure sellers of ad time would like this, but it's a well established science on Wall Street that works.

    Maybe everyone would be happier and find that scenario more lucrative.

  2. Carl LaFong, April 28, 2009 at 2:04 p.m.

    Marianne, if by "renting out" you mean allowing an advertiser to directly offer his inventory to another advertiser (at whatever cost), that runs afoul of bartering rules and is actually illegal.

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