Appraising the TV Upfront Market: Watch for snake eyes, or wait until May

Reading the TV upfront tealeaves is always the sport of gambling fools in February.

But since March Madness is still a few days away and the office pools have yet to start, the betting line that has become the TV upfront advertising selling market – May Madness, to some – is seeing some action.

Business trade publications have noted this week second-quarter cancellation options are a bit higher than last year; that is not necessarily a bad thing.

But the second quarter is a crucial period. Typically, sales activity in the second quarter is a barometer of how the upfront marketplace will fair starting in May.

Logic is, if advertisers can get lower prices in the scatter market than what was bought in the upfront (which has only happened like twice in 12 years), then advertisers paid too much for that season’s programming. That means come the next upfront you’ll see smirking advertisers rubbing their hands.



Of course, this is just another theory in February. Adults in Vegas have their own formulas.

Here are some factors to consider: Pharmaceutical companies fear troubled Cox-2 inhibitors – Vioxx and Celebrex – could force an industry-wide slowdown in over-the-counter (OTC) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands.

Even though venerable advertiser Procter & Gamble has been said to be cutting back about $30 million for the second quarter, a spokesman said the company will be up year-to-year, according to Media Week. But then there is this: Initiative Media executive Ray Dundas, according to Media Week, said $500 million will move from network and syndication to cable.

Hmmm. Haven’t we heard this before? Like last year? It seems every year cable networks are due to get $500 million from the broadcasting networks, but that exact amount never seems to materialize. Is this a real number or just a good negotiating position? Perhaps the press ought to ask around a bit more. Or, maybe wait until April to get a good reading.

Still, there are signs the upfront could be a weak affair. The economy isn’t all that perky. The stock market moves in only fits and starts. And certain major categories such as autos and retail and the aforementioned drug companies are question marks.

Right now in February – with rain and the snow and cold temperatures -- the forecast is for continued discomfort and sure chance that advertisers will buy TV time in May right after the upfront programming presentations.

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