Pre-Upfront: Things That Matter, Things That Don't

For American television viewers, the new fall prime-time TV season is still more than four months away.  For insiders at the networks, advertisers, and their media agencies, however, the upfront season has placed thoughts of September squarely into May.

As the annual round of upfront events and presentations gets underway, here are a few things that matter, and some that don’t.

Live Viewing Matters
Among both adults 18-49 and 25-54, most prime-time series on broadcast and ad-supported cable have between 25% and 50% of their reported viewing played back via DVR.  In DVR homes, it’s between 40% and 80%.  

Given that about three-quarters of commercials are fast-forwarded during playback, that means between 30% and 60% of all prime-time commercials in DVR homes are skipped. And that’s just within seven days of the initial broadcast (which rises dramatically if you look at Nielsen’s new 35 days of delayed viewing).  



Ten years ago, this was the single biggest concern among TV advertisers. The implementation of C3, which was initially designed as a one- or two-year band-aid, erroneously led too many people to believe the problem was resolved.  But as everyone should by now understand, C3 does not measure fast-forwarding through commercials. The industry needs to once again address how to provide more granular audience measurement.

Pre-Season Buzz Doesn’t Matter
Regardless of how the primary sources of new series buzz have changed over the years, one thing is consistently clear: There’s virtually no correlation between the amount of pre-season buzz a new TV series receives and whether the show becomes successful. The success rate of the most buzzed-about new shows is virtually the same as for all series in general.  

Promotion Matters. Cross-Promotion Matters More
How many people heard anything about the legal drama “Doubt,” or the time-traveling show “Time After Time”?  Not many, I would guess.  The former wasn’t that good, but the latter had potential.  Both were on and off the air before all but a few people even knew they existed.  

Broadcast networks still stubbornly refuse to accept promos from other broadcast networks, while gladly accepting them from their real competitors, such as HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and ad-supported cable. More than half the shows I regularly watch on cable, I found out about through promos on a different network.  I can’t say the same for anything I regularly watch on a broadcast network.

Rating Gains or Losses Should Matter, But Won’t
If you asked network executives whether they would rather have their average rating rise by 10% but slip in the standings, or lose 10% of their audience but move into 1st place (for broadcast) or into the top 10 (for cable), they would all prefer to lose viewers and move up in the standings.  As the upfront process rewards rankings over ratings, and big data continues to highlight indexes over audience size, this is not likely to change (and will continue to be one of the major reasons prime-time ratings continue to decline).

OpenAP Will Matter — Eventually
I have an instinctive bias against sellers cooperating to propose a “better way” of buying.  This type of thing is often designed to mask the fact that the traditional age/sex ratings are declining.  But Viacom, Turner, and Fox, have great research groups and some of the top people in the business, so I’m reserving judgment until I can evaluate exactly what they are doing.  Still, there is so much data out there these days, and so much of it is bad, that this might be just what the industry needs.  This seems like more of a planning than a buying tool, so any real impact probably won’t be felt until after this upfront. Until more companies come on board, it may not be widely accepted, but you have to start somewhere if you want to change the world.

2 comments about "Pre-Upfront: Things That Matter, Things That Don't ".
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  1. charles bachrach from BCCLTD, May 3, 2017 at 4:24 p.m.

    The "Upfront" is and always has been a waste of time! 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 3, 2017 at 5:02 p.m.

    The upfront is an ideal vehicle for the major ad sellers---the broadcast TV networks ---to exercise a measure of control over the industry's CPM pricing and "lock in" billions of dollars in advance as they usually get bought first.. It's also an important way for advertisers to merchandise their buys to their sales or distribution arms well in advance and to ensure that they have access to GRPs at every point during a season. Also, the upfront planned cancellation game---with modest penalties---allows some advertisers to try to squeeze out overall better CPMs by dipping in and out of the more volatile scatter market. What the upfront doesn't do is guarantee an advertiser  bargain basement CPMs due to the "clout" engendered by pooling all brand budgets into a larger "corporate buy".. That is basically a myth.

    Until advertisers find a medium that can replace "linear TV" as their must have, basic, platform, the upfront is here to stay. So far, digital has failed to provide this alternative on a meaningful scale. Will this change? Who knows?

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