Fox is offering online inventory -- on hulu.com, for example -- as a make-good for a massive 20% drop in traditional TV ratings.
ABC also did this a couple of years back for the same reasons: It didn't have enough -- or the right -- inventory to give back to advertisers, who are guaranteed specific gross rating points in their TV media buys.
Two years ago, many national advertisers were more resistant to these kinds of deals, believing online didn't offer the same big-screen bang for their media bucks. But more are coming around to idea of consumers "catching-up" with their missed TV programs using the likes of hulu.com or respective network video players.
Networks sellers would say advertisers are getting what amounts to higher-priced inventory. The cost per thousand viewer prices (CPMs) for premium online TV episodes can be three to four times that of traditional TV episodes.
Still, we don't know the specifics. For example, does a national TV advertiser get to maintain its make-goods in a three-day time span, matching up with a traditional C3 rating guarantee: commercial ratings plus three days of time shifting?
Networks continually tout their live program plus seven days of playback numbers. But on the Internet? That can be plus 20 days, 30 days, 40 days, or whenever. What is the value? (Then again, research has shown most catch-up playback of popular TV programs on the Internet happens quickly -- just a few days after shows' initial TV premiere.)
The good news is, these in-need advertisers can at least get into the specific shows and brands they had bought in the first place -- rather than say, replacement TV programming now airing. That's not always possible with traditional TV make-goods.
Two years ago, ABC did more or less the same thing for a number of advertisers in giving online make-goods to advertisers who didn't get their expected GRPs on traditional TV media buys. Mike Shaw, president of advertising sales for ABC, told MediaPost then that advertisers were able to get into top-rated shows online, such as "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost," while they weren't able to on traditional TV.
"The biggest single selling point is the mix," he said. "You get such a high concentration of your total impression in the top five or six shows. It's a mix of inventory I'd never sell you on the linear network."
Networks are typically loath to give back cash -- especially now with profitability harder to come for many TV shows. With Fox in a deeper hole presently (though slowly recovering in recent weeks), there's urgency.
It's anticipated that come January, Fox should make up for lost ground with the return of a revamped "American Idol" and premieres of four new shows.
But TV marketers typically can't wait that long -- and online inventory is available right now.