Viacom's Not-So-Upfront

Clink your glasses, grab the shrimp on ice, and see the good, bad, and ugly programming in a video tape presentation. Coming to a town near you, Viacom is producing local TV "upfront" presentations for spot TV buyers.

On the surface, a local TV upfront presentation for spot media agency executives looks like a nice gesture. After all why should the national media buyers get all the fun? Viacom Television Stations Group already had events in Chicago and Atlanta. In the next two weeks, it'll have two more in Los Angeles and New York.

Sounds like a great move. But spot buyers should take care not to stuff too much steak tartar in their mouths. Viacom sales executives will be looking to sell some high-priced beverages to wash it down in the months to come.

Here's why the press should be a tad more suspect: Just one day before, the Television Bureau of Advertising projected that next year's combined national and local TV spot business would be flat to down versus 2004. At the end of this year, the TVB is expecting a healthy 10 to 11 percent gain versus 2003. There's about $22 billion dollars on the line, which is total local TV advertising revenue in 2003.



Sure, we've seen this before. TV spot revenue for non-Olympic and non-political advertising years is always lower than in the years of big elections and big, high bar routines.

No matter. Viacom stations advertising executives, and, in fact, all local TV station ad executives will be under pressure to improve revenue in a tough selling period. Tough stuff will also be coming from increased competition from local cable spot sales groups.

The upfront moniker for these events, however, is a misnomer. Upfront deals refer to national advertisers buying an entire year's worth of commercial time on a network at the start of season - all with rating guarantees. The theory goes, if advertisers commit a big chunk of money, they'll get lower prices than if they would have bought quarter-by-quarter, in what is called the "scatter" market.

But that's not the way TV spot works. Local advertisers buy quarter-by-quarter, or month-by-month - and usually without rating guarantees. Still, credit Viacom executives as savvy businessman to bring the glitz of the big New York upfront events to the local car dealerships and banks.

Now Viacom only needs to modify the name: Call it the Up-Close, the Up-Almost, or maybe the Up-Near Term.

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