Prognosis For TV's Upfront: Not Dead, Just Lounging, In Semi-retirement

Is the upfront dead? Some would believe it took a fatal shot this winter and spring with the coming new digital platforms.

But not according to John Muszynski, CEO of Starcom USA, who spoke at Media magazine's 2006 Outfront Conference yesterday. He believes there will always be an upfront--it's just that the upfront will look different. Possibly there'll be more upfront--perhaps one every day, he says.

An upfront will always exist somewhat in its current form, he says, because they'll always be shows that are in high demand by marketers--"CSI," "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "American Idol."

This isn't all good news for networks. Where does this leave those middle-level performing shows, like CBS' "Out of Practice" or "How I Met Your Mother," ABC's "Supernanny," Fox's "Bones"--and just about any on NBC? In the near future, those shows could be relegated to whims of scatter matter. Marketers may be in no rush to buy them.



But here's the rub: Network ad sales chiefs are in the business of not just selling the top- rated shows, but all those middle-rated shows as well. That's what brings down a marketer's average prime-time CPM.

In the future, networks might replace that middle- level component with some in the digital platform space. Five years from now, the network upfront may look like this: a $6.5 billion dollar traditional TV business with an additional $3 billion going to networks' digital platform coffers.

The change is occurring because money will be placed in multimedia extension projects --digital, branded entertainment, and otherwise--bought in mid-season, or whenever. These deals take a long time to negotiate and iron out, says Muszynski.

In addition, the scatter market may be a different advertising buying vehicle as well--one where marketers may buy those middle-rated shows closer to air date. For instance, Steve Farella, president/CEO of Targetcast, said at the Outfront conference that for the last several scatter markets, you could have mostly any network show you wanted at, or near, their upfront pricing.

On the same panel that Farella was speaking, non-TV executives from Screenvision (in-theater advertising), (a teen Internet site), National Geographic (magazine) and the Newspaper National Network, debated the possibilities of being part of an upfront market.

All this is to say, don't carve the granite yet for the upfront's headstone. It's just going into semi-retirement. You'll see it on a chaise lounge, poolside, on the set of "CSI: Miami."

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