Commentary

TV's Future Upfronts: No Jokes, No Shrimp -- Just Less Money

Can media agencies make upfront deals without first schmoozing with singing TV executives, caramelized little pizzas, and jokes from Jimmy Kimmel?

An American Association of Advertising Agencies' TV committee is looking to have the networks scale back their big May presentations.

This makes them seem like party poopers. Networks are in the business of selling big and spending more -- and of course, losing even more money. All that big razzle-dazzle usually works to send pixie dust floating into advertisers' eyes, while networks end up taking $9 billion of advertisers' money.

Carat's Andy Donchin, the committee's chairman, says the effort is to do all the networks' presentations in one day, and only concentrate on prime time. That means no Jay Leno, Katie Couric or the boys from "The NFL Today."

The intent is to save time and be more productive. In reality, advertisers want closer one-on-one conversations with networks. Media agencies must feel pressure. They can't spend so much valuable time away from the office, almost four full days. Clients must be upset then, because work seemingly comes to a standstill.

You can see it at the parties -- especially at the end of the week, when the executives on their BlackBerrys and cell phones reach a fevered pitch in the garden area of Tavern on the Green.

But the question is, what would advertisers get for their toned-down network efforts? Not those two- to three-hour shows -- but perhaps an hour-and-a-half, conference-room-like presentations.

Network could do even better -- just email schedules, and then have a brief chat with media agency senior TV buying executives. The tapes of new shows, as usual, would come later. Call it an upfront. Missing the food of the big upfront events? Networks will send some pizza.

That might be too much. Media agencies really want to save about three to four days during that week, and perhaps a couple of those overnight efforts in inking actual deals.

Imagine that they get their wish, and that all networks somehow agree to pull back. That might work for one upfront -- before capitalism sticks out its ugly upfront head.

One rebellious down-in-the-dumps network will decide to have a party one year -- and everyone will go. They'll feel good about that network -- and maybe even throw a little extra money their way.

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