1. Ratings: Have the rating goals been met in every daypart? Are they 100% guaranteed. What ratings are being employed in the buy recaps and guarantees; i.e., are they "live" ratings or do they include alleged DVR viewers? If they're "live 'plus'", what's the plus; e.g., live plus one day, live plus three days, etc. And if they're live plus, is there any discounting being applied to account for the fact that DVR viewers tend to skip the commercials. Speaking of commercials, are commercial ratings being reported and guaranteed or ratings for the programs only? When all this is said and done, insist finally on a comparison of ratings, costs per rating and CPMs based on last year's ratings 'currency', most likely live only, because that's the only way to see how much more you're paying this year.
2. Efficiency: Speaking of paying, what are the comparable costs per rating and costs per thousand vs. year ago? Look closely at the word 'comparable'. That means adjusted for message length, ratings currency (see above), ratings by daypart, ratings in broadcast vs. cable, etc. There are many ways to make a buy look better than it is. The easiest is to use a greater mix of cheaper elements such as more :15's vs. :30's, more morning shows vs. late night, more cable vs. broadcast, etc. Make sure the comparisons to year ago are valid.
3. Top Programs: Ask the agency to rank all network programs by target rating size. The direct them to group the programs into three segments by rating size: high, middle and low with one third of programs in each group: the highest rated third of programs, the lowest rated third and the middle third.
Then group the programs in the buy proposal(s) by the same ratings 'tertiles'. Are a third of the programs in your buy proposal in the highest-rated group? Are more than a third of the programs in your buy proposal in the lowest rated group? Do this analysis based on number of spots or units as well as number of ratings delivered from each group. Higher rated programs carry a price premium, lower rated bigger discounts. Buy quality and pricing can be 'played with' an infinite number of ways by changing the mix of shows by rating size.
Proven Programming: Ask the agency to group programs as follows and do the same sort of analysis:
a. Returning high-rated programs in the same time periods
b. Other returning programs in the same time period
c. Other returning programs
d. New shows in new time periods (Since few of these will survive, units in new shows are best considered as giving the networks a blank check.)
The Bottom Line: The rationale for an upfront buy is ratings guarantees, efficiencies, top programs and proven programs. If your buy does not include a disproportionate number of both, the entire premise of an upfront is open to question. Caveat Emptor!