TV Upfront's Bonfire: Ringing Five Alarms

The upfront is here -- because we smell the smoke of number-crunching laptops.

Merrill Lynch says this upfront may be all up in flames -- with the chance that revenues could dip as much as 14% for the broadcast networks, to $7.73 billion, and cable down as much as 3%, to $7.45 billion.

Start pointing your fingers for what's to blame: the recession; the writers strike; and/or dramatically lower ratings.

Here's the good news, according to some media buyers: Should the traditional TV market tank, you can be sure that the money isn't going to digital. Carat's Andy Donchin says when marketers pull back, they stick whatever money they have left in what they think works best -- and that's still TV.

It used to be the dangling part of the upfront equation was making sense of the scatter market -- were marketers going to hold back in the hopes scatter rates would drop versus upfront rates?

Now there are digital revenue shifts to think about. But there are different kind of risks to consider. Are the metrics stable enough, solid enough for marketers to count on them? Yes and no.

A couple of years ago, one major mid-sized import auto marketer suggested it could do well shifting all money from network to cable. The end result? It cost that executive his job. The metrics may have made sense, but fewer people were buying their cars.

Shift most of your money to digital now? Yeah, right.

It's not so surprising the same media companies that sell marketers traditional TV network advertising time now also sell lots of cable, digital, and out of home media.

But are they are really going to monetize all this non-TV stuff -- in this upfront? Not yet. News Corp. said its digital revenue sales (mostly from MySpace), on the order or $1 billion a year, will be delayed somewhat.
In a recession, it will be interesting to see who is bringing the water -- and who is starting the fires



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