Fox's Byrne Passes Sue Sylvester Test

Toby Byrne, Fox’s new head of ad sales, took his baptism in the spotlight like a man.

He was introduced to ad buyers at the Fox upfront presentation Monday at the Beacon Theater by Jane Lynch of the network’s hit Glee. She warned the youthful executive that she would make a crack about him being a 13 year-old, and call him the Scott McCreery of ad sales, referring to the baby-faced contestant on American Idol, according to Byrne.

Lynch added, “I might say something about your balls,” Byrne said. And she did, cracking that “the sound you hear are his balls droppping.”

“The audience was with me. I had to go for it,” she told him later, Byrne recalled, adding, “it got a good laugh.”

Byrne thanked Lynch for an introduction he called professional, thoughtful and warm. He proceeded to acknowledge his predecessor, Jon Nesvig, who presided over Fox upfronts for most of the network’s history.

Then he took over, talking about Fox’s ratings leadership and broadcast TV’s unique ability to build awareness, brand equity and sales for advertisers at a time when people like to talk about TV as having one foot in the grave in an era where digital and social media get more buzz.

Turns out that “digital and social media are TV’s friends,” Byrne said, noting a recent study that found that 84% of consumers saying TV advertising was their most important influence. He also pointed to a study by Innerscope that used biometric research to show how digital advertising is enhanced when connected to TV advertising and content. “Everything works better with television,” he said.

Byrne added that Fox was ready to sell its content on TV, on digital via Hulu and, giving advertisers demographic guarantees and specific programming on line. Programming on VOD and mobile platforms is also available.

Peter Rice, , Chairman, Entertainment, Fox Networks Group, added that Fox has unmatched engagement with its viewers as measured  by social media, where the network has more fans than Justin Bieber, Harry Potter or the Twilight movies.

Fox’s new schedule showed “a great consistency,” said Harry Keeshan, director of national broadcast at media agency PHD.

The addition of The X Factor in the fall “will be great for retailers,” and the series Alcatraz, with its mix of drama and mystery is “one of the things they do best.”

But can Fox turn X Factor into an Idol-sized hit at a time when musical contests are jamming the schedule grids.

“How much does it take to fill the genre,” asked Aaron Cohen, executive VP, national broadcast, Horizon Media.

Cohen was a fan of several of Fox’s new animated comedies, including Napoleon Dynamite. “That  epitomizes Fox.,” he said.

But he wasn’t sold on Fox’s planned remake of The Flintstones from Seth MacFarlane. “I wonder why I’m supposed to get excited about the Flintstones in 2013,” Cohen said. And he had some questions about Fox’s Terra Nova, the special effects laden drama that was supposed to premiere this month but was delayed until the fall. “What stories are they going to be telling in episodes three and four,” he said.

Once presentations are done this week ad buyers and sellers will get down to negotiation.

“The people who were talking about 20% a few weeks ago are talking about 10% now,” said Cohen, “I’ll be biding my time. This isn’t going to be a three-day turnaround. There’s no reason to make a fast commitment that turns into a bad commitment.”`

Byrne, who like other executives, expects a strong market, said following the presentation, “we’ll see how things play out over the next few weeks.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.