Upfront Notebook: Analyst Sees Most Upside at ABC

In addition to media buyers and clients, last week's upfront presentations were also attended by securities analysts who cover the media business.

One, Marci Ryvicker of Wells Fargo, says investors will be putting a lot of stock in the results of the upfront market.

"Given precipitous rating declines, recent chatter of a soft scatter market, concerns about Over-The-Top (OTT), and the fear that every ad dollar is moving to digital (we totally disagree with this premise by the way), this year's television upfront appears to have a lot more meaning when it comes to investor sentiment than any other upfront in history," Ryvicker said in a report Monday morning.

Ryvicker looked at each network's presentation and schedule and provided a review. She was most impressed and surprised by ABC. She said the network "probably has the greatest amount of potential upside should this schedule pan out," providing another reason to like parent company, The Walt Disney Co.'s stock.

She said CBS' slate was strong, but it had been expected to be strong.

We were disappointed with both the "NBCU broadcast and cable nets; while Fox is still anchored to Gotham and Empire - no turnaround here yet."

She said attendees of NBC's broadcast presentation thought NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt was "uncharismatic and awkward." She liked Neil Patrick Harris' Best Time Ever, however.

As for Fox, she said the network did a good job discussing its cross-platform and data initiatives, but the presentation of its schedule was "scattered," focusing on a few new shows while the rest seemed to be iffy projects new entertainment chiefs Gary Newman and Dana Walden inherited and wanted to make the best of.

"The most awkward moments of the presentation were a toss-up between an out-of-place Empire performance," "the awkwardness was the dancing in the crowd," and several claps when it was announced that American Idol was going into its final season.

Another analyst, Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein, noted that the central theme of every presentation was data.

He said networks are trying to differentiate their ad proposition vs. other TV networks based on data transparency & audience segmentation as opposed to reach or context.

Juenger said the networks are also trying to differentiate their digital inventory (primarily in-stream) vs. other Internet video ad platforms based on superior viewability.

Finally, he noted that the quantity of original programing hours is going up across the board while ad-supported audiences are going down.

"We see the data differentiation as mostly a zero sum game with little sustainable advantage for anyone, just competition as usual (in a declining ad market)," he said.