Ironically, this came from some real upfront meetings--those where J&J met with the heads of the networks recently to tell them they shouldn't count on J&J's $500 million or so that its traditionally spends during the upfront.
J&J shareholders could be relieved--in part. J&J isn't abandoning TV, just realigning its media planning and buying around the business-planning schedule. The company is putting off making its TV buying deals until August; its commercial time from those deals will run January to December.
That's somewhat comforting, as J&J buys a lot of cable networks this way. Still all this is at risk. J&J could be missing out on selling Tylenol in some highly rated shows, such as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," among other top shows.
Public statements from advertisers or networks about their specific plans during the upfront are rare this time of year. Traditionally, the upfront tactics are kept secret--behind close doors--often, late night closed doors. In recent years, some networks--CBS and others, for example--issued press releases telling the exact total of their respective upfront revenues.
Critics say these statements are to move the stock market and rally shareholders and--in these days of Sarbanes-Oxley--perhaps a proper, financially legal move. Even then, networks are careful to describe these early dealings, which are commitments, not orders, subject to approved cancellations and other options by advertisers. In other words, these are not really firm revenue number anyway.
J&J's public thinking could be an attempt to get other big national TV advertisers to go the same way, taking a breather from the frenzied upfront sales period, all with the hope of slowing down overall TV demand.
J&J's backing out of the upfront adds another wrinkle--or headache--to the changing upfront marketplace. In either case, we still need Tylenol.