BBC America's Upfront Sales Pitch: Our Viewers Have Money to Spend

Cable TV Upfronts 2009 : Complete Coverage From Multichannel News

BBC America's pitch to ad buyers starts with this message: "Our viewers have more money to spend in this economy."

The 63-million-homes network expects to "do better than the marketplace" in the upfront auction of ad sales, largely because of audience demographics, senior vice president of advertising sales Mark Gall said. To him, that means an increase in upfront sales, as many projections are for a flat upfront for cable networks. Last year, he said, BBCA's upfront take "doubled" from the year before.

To ad buyers, BBCA is touting the most affluent and educated audience in cable, combining the percentage of viewers with household income of more than $100,000 and four years or more of college. Viewers' median income is $73,000, on par with Golf Channel, with a lower average age, 47, executives said. Even while it's brought that viewer age down, it increased average viewing in primetime by 44% in the target age of 25 to 54, officials said.

Other bullet points from Gall's presentation: BBCA averages 14 30-second ads per hour, the fewest in cable, and well below the medium's average of 23, officials said, citing Nielsen Media Research data.

BBCA also claims to top the list of non-kids cable networks for viewers that watch the commercials, citing Nielsen Media Research "C3" commercial-viewing data. BBCA cites a C3-to-Live viewing index of 104, tops in primetime in its target demographic. And it says it offers lower-cost sponsorships than competing networks.

"We're the only network that can say those three things: Fewest, highest, most. And in this economy, composition matters more than any other topic," Gall said.

Since last August, when the scatter market for buying ads started to "teeter," BBC America has outperformed other cable networks, bringing in ads from movie theaters, car dealers and wireless companies, he noted.

"Speaking to our ability to have great programming where people will actually see the commercial."

BBCA adds new original series year-round, "and the production quality, at about $1.4 million per hour episode, is pretty phenomenal," Gall said.

Richard De Croce, senior vice president of programming, said that in addition to returning mainstay series such as car show Top Gear, sci-fi dramas Doctor Who and Torchwood and romantic comedy Gavin & Stacey, the network will likely add 10 to 12 new original series this year.

They include a pair of sci-fi shows already announced but not yet scheduled: Being Human, about a vampire, werewolf and ghost, and the post-apocalyptic Survivors.

Increasingly the network has waited until it has 12 to 14 episodes to run together, rather than separating out "seasons" of British shows that might only contain six episodes. It did that with hits Primeval (a science-fiction drama with dinosaurs), Mistresses and Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to the original British Life on Mars.

"Most of our viewers have 150 channels on the digital tier that we're on," DeCroce said, so the network needs to keep shows on the schedule for longer runs so that when viewers find a show they like, they can expect to see it again the following week.

"What advertisers need right now is to reach viewers that have money to spend," ad-sales vice president Melissa Drucker said. "They need their ad to be watched and remembered and stand out. And they need more for less in terms of marketing solutions - they need their dollar to go further."

As for the upfront itself, as opposed to scatter sales, Gall said "this year is one of those years where the buyers will roll the dice and try to lock up some of those branded programs or those sponsorships that they need to have, want to have, feel is important for the brand. Whether it's as large as it has been in the past? More to come." He said BBCA has been making pitches, including program videos, to buyers in New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities since January.

Services such as those in the Scripps Networks group have recently said they were positioned well going into the upfront, based on clearly defined audience demographics for advertisers focused on consumers doing home repairs or entertaining at home.

"We are serving the niche for people who have money to buy stuff," Gall said. "That's a decent niche to be in."

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.