Upfront Lackluster, Clients Consider New Media Platforms For Ad Budgets

One of Madison Avenue's most influential media buyers recommends that clients set aside 10 percent of their budgets for new media opportunities--a trend that will continue to negatively affect the upfront.

Calling this year's upfront "lackluster," Magna Global Chairman-CEO Bill Cella said yesterday that clients are redirecting $5 million to $10 million of their traditional budgets to broadband, mobile and other platforms.

"Clients are now really experimenting," Cella said on a panel held in conjunction with the New York Television Festival.

Aware that the media world is evolving rapidly and unpredictably, Cella said clients are holding back money from the upfront to have cash on hand for new opportunities. He cited the example of ABC's decision last spring to begin streaming episodes of hit shows on its Web site--a move that wouldn't have been anticipated even three months before it was announced.

In a similar vein, networks have made loads of announcements in recent weeks about offering their content on different platforms. As a result, millions that Magna Global clients are withholding from the upfront could still wind up in the pockets of major media companies. "The networks and broadcasters have a built-in content opportunity," Cella said.



While a broadband ad model seems to be taking shape, Cella was more circumspect about the prospects of the mobile platform, throwing cold water on bullish projections that it can become a billion-dollar market in the next three years.

He cited the failure of ESPN Mobile to take off as an example that dims optimism, although he attributed much of ESPN's product struggles to being overpriced. "They came out too expensive (and will admit it)," he said. "They realized they had an interesting opportunity, and they overpriced it."

Howard Owens, an executive at Reveille, the production company behind shows such as "The Office" and "Nashville Star," echoed Cella. He also expressed some uncertainty about what kind of content and resulting ad models will dominate the wireless space. "Right now, there is not a market for a lot of the content that we control on wireless networks," he said.

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