The Coming Upfront: Just An Impression?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 18, 2007
As the Writers Guild of America strike continues unabated, a plethora of articles are focusing on the possible endangerment to the $9+ billion TV upfront market. From what I can glean from the press and repressed utterances from the national media buying community, the inflection point seems to be the March development slate. Or in this instance, the lack of one, since the writers have spent the present season with pickets in hand instead of pens.

Without a slate of original programming (dramas, sitcoms, made for TV movies) the networks will be forced to rely on -- as they are in the process of -- reality shows, repeated repeats, sibling crossovers (i.e., Showtime and CBS), edited premium channel fare, dubbed foreign imports and mashes of classic TV programs (then and now ensembles).

A question or two to ponder:

1) If the networks don't have specific scripted star-studded programming in the hopper to offer the media community come the traditional upfront in May, will that mean that they will be forced to sell inventory on an impression-based model a la eBay, GoogleTV and/or Navic's Admira -- and thereby usher in a new era of impression-based negotiations for TV at the expense of the present day people curation motif? In other words, an accumulation of disparate rating points across yet-to-be-named programs traversing every time period and daypart of the week. Conceivably, eBay could offer a "to the highest bidder" approach per network "unimagined" schedule; GoogleTV could extend its reach through guaranteeing payment for only individual commercial audience delivery purchased by network, dayparts and/or programs; and Navic's Admira could couple its auctioning model with traditional perspectives on household viewing to help navigate through uncharted waters of nontraditional program viewing -- since viewing patterns of scripted programming will no longer be applicable and historical data perhaps irrelevant.



2) Secondarily, once the flow and promotion of original broadcast network fare to their online siblings is stemmed, due to the dearth of original, professionally produced, scripted content, what effect will this have on the momentum of the network's online forays? If "catch up" program viewing is thwarted and the halo effect diminished, how will the broadcasters' ".coms" weather the drought? Given the intricate distribution webs spun by many of the broadcasters to have their programming be accessible across a variety of video destinations to maximize availability to the widest possible audience, how will those relationships be altered as distributors glean less revenue and their programming fare is less attractive?

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