Possible TV Writers' Strike Could Hobble Ad Sales

A real TV writers' strike could mean interesting drama in the advertising sales offices of broadcast networks -- as if this ad market hasn't been theatrical enough.

In theory, marketers could make networks redo all their upfront deals, says one media agency executive.  Why? Because they paid for original network programming - not for reruns, or some half-baked reality shows, or some not-fleshed-out backburner scripted shows.

"They could say we paid a $27 CPM [the cost per thousand 18-49 viewers] for this scheduled show, and now want a price that is $10 less," he says.

Want more?  The current inventory tightness that now exists in the fourth-quarter scatter market right now would only compound problems if a strike occurred.

Fewer commercials spots could be the result if shows were replaced and ratings plummeted.  Under those circumstances, networks, for the first time in about a decade and a half, would have to do the unthinkable: give money back to marketers.

Want even more? Compounding this situation is the fact that the still-problematic commercial ratings (C3) aren't even out yet - due in a week or so. Some executives still have concerns over their reliability.

To be fair, the industry has been through writers' strike threats before.  Only once did this come to a head and create problems: During the 1988 writers' strike, marketers asked networks to redo some upfront deals.

That strike lasted 22 weeks, and cost the TV production business $500 million. Those losses were in 1988 dollars. What would a four- or five-month strike mean today? A lot more money -- with cable and syndication seemingly affected as well.

The current Writers Guild of America contract expires at the end of this month. TV networks have begun stockpiling scripts as a precaution. But what does that mean?  What will marketers do if networks indeed start dropping shows in favor of, say, fringe TV content of the type NBC's notorious fictional executive Jack Donaghy might schedule -- "America's Next Top Pirate" or "MILF Island"?

MILF Island? As Donaghy says on "30 Rock": "Twenty-five super-hot moms, fifty eighth-grade boys, no rules."

If this doesn't worry you, here's a comforting thought from a negotiator for the TV producers:  "We are farther apart today than when we started, and the only outcome we see is a disaster."

Collateral damage may extend into many other related TV areas. Are TV marketers ready to move out of harm's way -- or will they be stranded on MILF Island



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