Commentary

Breaking News: Marketers Don't Like TV's Upfront

Brace yourself for some shocking TV advertising news coming out of the ANA Television Forum yesterday.

"Marketers are Unhappy with The Upfront," blared a headline from Adage.com.

Gee, I could swear I've heard this news before. Like last year, for instance. Wait.... I believe the year before, this sentiment came up as well. And, yes, I seem to recall three years ago this was also a problem.

Let's face it. This story has given journalists fodder for much copy. Now it's an annual institution with its own anniversary. There should be cake. There should be booze. Marketers apparently need to celebrate more--and think less.

Every year marketers complain about the upfront--and every year they do the exact opposite. Why should this year be any different?

They buy networks in the May/June upfront market, and seemingly, at that brief moment, are happy--summer vacations are starting. Then, in September--perhaps with buyers' remorse, perhaps with flash-back nightmares of going back to school and facing a few bullies--they become unhappy again.

They should just stop buying networks altogether. Just like Ian Beavis did. That brave marketing executive pulled all network TV dollars while head of marketing for Mitsubishi Motors North America. And how did that work out? Not so well.

It still sticks in Beavis' craw that networks every year grab more revenues and higher CPMs. So he set about a different agenda. Now at Kia Motors, he wants the networks to at least adjust to marketer's timetables. He put together a poll, and voila--83 percent of marketers said they would be in favor of doing upfront deals for a calendar, not broadcast, year.

Here's a little secret: They can do it right now. You can buy broadcast networks without buying in the upfront.

Jon Nesvig, president of advertising sales for Fox, has constantly said, "We're open to business all year round." Other TV sales executives have the same opinion. But when the rubber meets the road--and not just for car companies --marketing executives can't seem to find the accelerator.

Why? Because, as Mike Shaw, president of advertising sales for ABC, reminds us, for the last 13 years or so, there have only been a couple of years where scatter pricing was lower than upfront pricing. So, if you want good shows, buy early, perhaps buy often-- before the season starts. Thus, there is a need for the upfront.

We are treated to media agencies' and marketing executives' complaints and critical reviews that broadcast networks aren't what they used to be. On that account, they should be in no rush to buy "Grey's Anatomy" or "American Idol" for next year. Instead they should buy cable or the Internet or iTunes or 5-second ads on my Cingular phone.

Why am I telling you this? Because some executives don't know that marketers are unhappy about the upfront--or apparently don't have good memories. When the 2007 upfront market rolls around, there'll be this headline: "Marketers are sad about the upfront."

And people will say: "Really? I had no idea."

And then we can all write the story again.

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