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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

May 10, 2006

Tombers Ponders The Upfront Uproar

As I went a week ago or so to the train, I stood underneath the marquee of Madison Square Garden which announced that that night, for ONE night only, was the MTV Networks UPFRONT. Now, I'm guessing that for 99% of the people scurrying to their trains that night, it was a sign that made no sense. Yes, they knew who MTV Networks was but what was UPFRONT - a new rock group out of the U.K.? A break out gay band?

No, ladies and gentleman, an "upfront" is the annual party thrown by networks to debut their new programs to advertisers and media buyers, who buy advertising time to hawk their clients- products to all who are watching. After the Upfront parties, comes the Upfront itself, the buying season - or in some cases, buying frenzy that keeps lights burning all night at some networks and ad agencies as deals are hammered out determining financial fates.

Unless you are HBO, most networks in this country [and, increasingly, in every part of the world] are advertising dependent to a greater or lesser degree and, generally, it-s to a greater degree. I-m not sure that the average Joe and Joan at home really thinks much about it but WILL AND GRACE is funded by advertisers, which is why everyone in advertising is a little cranky about this Tivo thing and its DVR cousins, all of which allow the home viewer to SKIP the commercial.

To make all this worse, now you also have to worry about the people who aren't watching television at all but simply downloading T.V. programs from Bit Torrent, among others, via the web and bypassing the whole television game. While illegal, it is draining away some viewers. iTunes legally gives you T.V. programs for $1.99 with NO commercials.

In an ironic and smart little twist, many programs that can now be watched on the web might be able to be paused but you can-t skip the commercial messages. No fast forwarding allowed - a way television networks are attempting to get around while at the same time using new technology.

For those who live and work in that community generically called "Madison Avenue" it's a horror time: can I count the days to my retirement? GET ME OUT OF HERE!

Though there are those who are genuinely excited about the changes: gosh, we can send an ad directly to someone's cell phone just as they are passing a Banana Republic to tell them about the sale in that particular store!

The whole landscape has become confusing and is both exciting and threatening. The television world as we know it has been changing for decades now, ever since that little upstart HBO started people thinking about how to bite into the then Big Three Television Behemoths. [Anecdotally, the guys who started HBO once said at a conference I attended that after it launched, they all sat in a bar drinking, thinking they had just made the dumbest career move they could have EVER done. (Time has proved them wrong.)]

Television is no longer just the little box that sits in our living room, our bedroom, kitchen, den or media room [the recreation room of the 21st century]. It is video content flowing at is from every conceivable direction and device, an unstoppable flow of images surrounding us, bathing us in information, beaming often banal material from ever larger [and smaller] screens, peppered with advertising that promises us nirvana with some new vehicle that has motorized its seating arrangements while allowing them to be managed by remote control .

For a moment I find myself glimpsing into the world of "Fahrenheit 451", the movie where there was only video, no books and fireman burned printed material as a matter of course.

The challenge for us all - and particularly for parents who have children -- is how to interpret and manage this tsunami of video bits washing over the shoreline of our lives.