As frustrating as it can be to cover an extended upfront (reporters often feel like the net on a Ping-Pong table, stuck in the middle as buyers and sellers try to out-volley each other with spin shots), one of the benefits this year has been more of Rich Goldfarb.
Before the upfront, Goldfarb and "TV Week" editorial director Chuck Ross kicked around the idea of trying to give readers an insider's perspective of the upfront from the sales side. Ross mulled it over and cooked up the idea of Goldfarb, senior vp of sales at the National Geographic Channel, writing a blog on TVWeek.com.
It has turned out to be one of the more imaginative gambits by the trade press in some time. Employing his substantial wit and creativity since June 5, Goldfarb has entertained readers daily with his tongue-in-cheek take on the market -- sometimes through song lyrics, other times with a send-up of the industry -- mixed with more serious commentary.
The blog was intended to run through the upfront. Translation: It was supposed to be short-lived. But the glacial market kept Goldfarb offering up daily dish -- about topics ranging from the DVR ratings stand-off to the proposed eBay-style buying/selling system to Pitt-Jolie and Trump-Burnett -- longer than expected.
"The expectation was that it would be a relatively short-term thing and not become a marathon," Goldfarb says.
Alas, after readers got the bonus coverage, thanks to buyers holding money back or sellers demanding exceedingly high CPMs or whatever else contributed to the drawn-out upfront, Goldfarb's last entry comes today. After all, he wasn't getting overtime pay and has a pretty busy day job.
But Goldfarb's 18 entries will probably continue to be available on the TV Week site and are worth printing out and reading during the commute. The laughs alone will make Path and Metro-North rides a little less grueling. Some highlights:
Entry #1: On the issue of buyers' search for engagement metrics, Goldfarb asks if "this is the year of engagement, marriage or divorce?" (So far, it seems like there's been more divorce.)
Entry #3: Goldfarb, who moonlights as a singer/songwriter/trumpet player, offers the first of his upfront "songs." To the tune of "New York, New York:"
Start placing the dough
It's time to be a part of it
These DVR blues
Are melting away
Let's get to the heart of it
Entry #9: Goldfarb forecasts what the buying side will look like in 2016 as the big media shops succumb to the call for re-bundling of media and creative: "75 key boutique shops that have average client rosters of four accounts."
Entry #17: Goldfarb provides a window into his personal viewing habits (apparently it's more than the Nat Geo series "Naked Science" and "Dog Whisperer," not to be confused with "Ghost Whisperer" or "Horse Whisperer"): "Stop running commercials for Empire Carpet with the retro jingle and animated mustachioed carpet guy," he says.
Entry #16: It's June 20 and Goldfarb isn't sure he wants to be writing deals until the NFL kicks off. More song, this time to the tune of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind:"
Some folks like to place their bucks,
Take a holiday from their buying chores
Hop a ride to the Hamptons, or the Jersey Shore
I'm taking my Metro-North on the Hudson River Line -- I'm in an upfront state of mind.
I've seen all the studies with their fancy claims
Been crunching my numbers till they're
good and done.
But I know that I'm ready, and I
don't want to waste more time -
I'm in an upfront state of mind.
In between, there's also some less amusing, thought provoking takes on the business. At one point, Goldfarb poses the question: If the industry goes with commercial ratings, then does that place any responsibility on agencies to create better ads to help prevent viewer exodus during breaks? Later, he suggests the slow upfront will allow sales executives more time to strategize about managing inventory.
That last point raises an interesting question about the blog itself. Goldfarb says he was mindful of striking a balance -- that if he was going to engage in some upfront posturing, it had to be a soft sell or viewers would be turned off. "I don't think there was tremendous receptivity for a sales presentation in a blog format," he says.
So while there is some of this -- "we've closed, yes closed, a major media and marketing partnership, which ties to one of our most buzz-worthy properties" -- it leans more to gentle pitches in the vein of "the industry seems to be inching closer to resolving the great DVR debate, so buckle up for thrills and chills ... just like on our [shameless plug]'Supercoasters' special."
"It can't be a sales pitch or you lose all credibility," says Bruce Lefkowitz, one of the Fox Cable executives who approved Goldfarb doing the blog.
And kudos to Lefkowitz and other brass who cleared it. While it offered the potential upside of brand exposure for the Nat Geo channel, it carried some PR risk. Due to the sensitivity of the sales process, executives don't exactly speak to the press as willingly as John McCain. Could Keith Turner get NBC's PR staff to sign off? "Celebrity Cooking Showdown" had a better chance of being a hit.
"People have thought it's a gutsy thing to do," says "TV Week's" Ross. "A lot of sales guys have told me they would never have done it."
Fortunately, Goldfarb embraced it.
Truth, Justice And The Upfront Way: Let Us Know What You Think
Is this year's upfront more secretive, more protracted or much different than in year's past? What do you think is the role of the trade press and public spin in upfront ad negotiations? Let us know your opinions. They will be kept confidential and results will be reported next week by MediaPost. Please click here to participate in a brief online survey conducted via InsightExpress.
Be An Upfront Expert, Win A Free Slingbox
You can also still enter TV Watch's upfront predictions contest that by replying to this e-mail with your best guess for the following:
* Total network prime-time sales for the six broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW and MyNetworkTV) in billions of dollars to two decimal points.
* The individual prime-time sales totals for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW and MyNetworkTV.
The tiebreaker: Predict the CPM percentage change from last year's prime-time upfront for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
The winner must match MediaPost's compilation of a consensus from leading trade publications, newspaper coverage and securities firms.
In the event of a tie, MediaPost will pick one winner from a random drawing.
The winner will receive a free Slingbox to watch their TV on the go, even as the upfront is going, going, gone.
As a point of reference, here's how the networks performed during the 2005-06 prime-time upfront:
ABC: $2.08 billion
CBS: $2.60 billion
NBC: $1.90 billion
Fox: $1.60 billion
UPN: $0.24 billion
WB: $0.68 billion
Six-networks (including UPN and WB): $9.09 billion.