To be upfront about the upfront, it looks like tough sailing for sure, especially in light of a somewhat historic ratings drop in prime-time viewership -- down 15%. TV selling executives can only hope an actors' strike won't throw the networks in the soup.
The best case scenario broadcast networks should hope for is, getting at least the same level of total upfront dollars versus a year ago. If those overall upfront dollars are indeed flat, then execs will have to decide how to handle the second part of the equation -- how can they ask for whopping 15% increases in the cost per thousands viewers, to get them to the same dollar volume of a year ago?
Here's one argument for getting those price hikes: Conditions have been worse during this year's past scatter market, which was looking at eyeball-rolling increases of 20% to 40% and more. The buyers' retort? Less inventory -- caused by the strike and poor performing shows -- forced those hikes.
Fox, of course, has a different scenario, being able to tout higher ratings than a year ago. If that's not enough, Fox's Jon Nesvig offer up a nice fact or two for media buyers during last week's upfront presentation: Take out the Super Bowl, and prime-time ratings are still up. Not enough, you say? Take out "American Idol," Fox is still doing better than a year ago!
While all networks need to make a call soon about how negotiations will start, it would seem NBC needs to move first again. It needs to make a deal similar to the one it made with Group M of a year ago. With fewer rating points to sell, it needs to figure out how to get back its CPM mojo of a few years ago, when it was the top-priced network -- a mantle handed over to Fox some time ago.
Of course, we have been through this before in the upfront -- supposed tipping points where marketers would be shifting dollars out of broadcast TV into cable, the Internet, mobile, and, say, holographic media (Is there an upfront market for that?)
Few are talking up the possibilities of sending wheel-barrows of cash to the Internet for the streaming of TV shows. From the network point of view, perhaps TV sales executives should talk up those platforms, which they often own, or at least have deals on.
And then when ratings tank next year by 15% again, it'll make networks sound like everything is covered for the future.