What is an upfront?
It is a time, in spring, when the buyers and sellers of national
time engage in either irrational exuberance or irrational
despair. During a
frenzy of meetings over a week or so, billions of dollars
worth of national
television advertising is exchanged and the tone of the ad
market is set for
It's May 29th. Last week, the most robust upfront ad sales
market occurred for broadcast television in the history of
the medium. It was so strong, well north of nine billion dollars,
that most people who work in the business were confounded.
The ad market is stronger than the economy in general. Advertising
continues to defy the gravity of the general economy, which
is growing at something like 2% while networks cpms
[cost per thousands and the measure by which money changes
hands] went up by 15 20+ %.
It was so good it is making media analysts a little uneasy.
Where is all
the upfront money coming from? No one knows, for sure. What
seems to be happening is that advertising, which normally
declines in a down economy, has grown in this downturn as
marketers seem to have decided to keep hawking their goods,
even when folks seem less inclined to spend.
The market this week for cable and syndication may well have
been shaped by the dreariness of the weekend. After a market
that left almost everyone I know breathless, all the executives
wanted was a relaxing weekend in the
sun. What they got was a fall like weekend, with rain and
cold, which left
them cranky when they came back Tuesday. It is a mood that
has affected the speed with which they are opening their checkbooks.
And even though the sun has come out, some sobriety has returned.
But the absolutely amazing thing is that by the time all
this upfront frenzy
is finished something like twenty plus BILLION dollars will
funneled into national television advertising in the United
The advertising pot, while larger, is being spread over more
there were three broadcast networks and now there are at least
are god alone knows how many cable networks
Does it matter? Yes. Television is a business of advertising.
television programs largely as a place into which we can insert
The health of the ad market indicates there should be money
programming. Yet every programmer I know is pleading a degree
And while the irrational exuberance of last week has been
replaced this week by a slightly more tempered attitude toward
cable and syndication, the volume and price increases are
To justify that volume and velocity of money there is a need
Chasing ratings, which are based on the habits of something
like five to six
thousand people who have Nielsen Meters, is the reason we
have things like Fear Factor and The Bachelor, Survivor and
its many variations; Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? They
grab eyeballs, burn brightly and disappear.
One of reality televisions most attractive features
is that it is less
expensive than drama or comedy. However, the rapid wear out
reality has had some network executives planning more drama
development in hopes of having something that can last longer
than six weeks before it fades away. Not to mention wanting
something that can be repeated because who wants to re-watch
episodes of The Bachelor?
Feeding the machine has made many a development executive
All of these decisions and choices are made as reflections
of the viewing
habits of the 5,000 or so Nielsen people meters. Programming
made in an effort to make those few thousand homes tune in
tune in dials up dollars for the networks.
The viewing fate of the American public is in the hands of
a few thousand
folks who have no real idea, I suspect, of the power they
wield. Each of
those households is directly affecting millions of dollars
advertising dollars. Their viewing habits are directing my
Does this make sense? I dont think so.