Commentary

TV's New Upfront Advertising Season Starts After Labor Day

TV advertising's upfront isn't losing its power. It's just begun to flex its muscles, depending on which side of the advertising spigot you are sitting.

A couple of years ago major media agencies executives and TV business editors were calling for the end of the upfront, claiming you couldn't responsibly spend $20 billion in national TV dollars in three or four intense days of negotiations. Well, we all know that's an inaccurate description, since media agencies plan many months ahead of the big selling period.

Since last year's upfront and recent scatter market advertising budgets have become slow to medium drip valves, I say, why change a thing? If you are a media agency, you have all national sellers--network, cable, or syndication--just where you want them: begging for help, and trying to make sales goals.

If the upfront is poised to be a repeat performer, why not use the upfront to your advantage? Grind through the upfront season--and make your media seller sweat. Wait to make deals right after Labor Day. Hell, that's when most upfront deals go to order, anyway.

Call that the fall upfront market.

Last year's summer upfront market was a 5 percent market solution, which was ABC's call on the size of its prime-time price hikes. Every national seller--network, cable and syndication--keyed off of this. This year it'll be a more complex picture--ABC might not be in the driver's seat. Media buyers may need to track another network willing to move first. Perhaps NBC will do what it originally intended for the 2005 upfront season--cut price and go for volume. This year it'll need to do a better job convincing the higher-ups at General Electric that what occurred last year could--to a certain extent--happen again.

Does the loss of $900 million tweak anyone's memory? Hope so.

TV advertising forecasts don't look good for 2006, nor does the economy. If you are a TV seller, you can blame the Internet, ratings erosion, DVRs, the iTunes Music Store, or even branded entertainment, for the slow advertising faucet.

So what to do if you are a seller? Think less greedy--just like ABC did last year. If not you'll be waiting around for your upfront deals to close... on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006.

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