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Buyers See Plenty ofContent, But No Sure Hits

Complete coverage of the 2012 upfronts
ABC: Lee Looks to Build on Drama Successes
CBS: Key Shifts for 'Two and a Half Men,' '2 Broke Girls'
Fox: Taking Another Swing at Four-Comedy Tuesday
NBC: Betting Big on Comedy, 'The Voice'
CW Shifts Six of Its Seven Returning Series
USA: Expanding Beyond Drama
Turner Presents New Video Strategy, With No Glitches
ESPN: Promoting 'Face' Value
Univision: Getting Into the TV Everywhere Game
Telemundo Media Hopes to Capture 'Duality' of Hispanic Audience
Fox Hispanic Media: Breaking the Hispanic Network Mold
Discovery en Español Gets in the Game

In a digital world, content is king, and even if no individual show broke out at last week's upfronts, media buyers applauded the investment being made in original programming across the industry.

"It's great to see the big TV-based media companies investing in their product and doing their best to engage viewers with content, which is more important than ever," said Chris Geraci, president of broadcast at media agency OMD.

While talk about digital has increased, "most of the big ideas begin on TV," Geraci said, adding, "It makes sense to follow that TV-based content wherever it engages consumers, regardless of platform."

While there was more talk about multiple-screen, cross-media and social media than ever before, screening shows and talking about program strategy dominated the presentations, as they have in past years.

But buyers and network executives mostly agreed that was appropriate because while it might be traditional and a bit old-fashioned, it's still where the viewership -- and the money -- is.

"Everybody's talking about the second screen. The first screen must come first. There's no second screen without it," CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said during his net's upfront.

But while there was a lot of programming to see from the broadcast networks -- plus Turner and USA- nothing seemed to stand out.

"I don't see the Idol, I don't see the Desperate Housewives, the show that's going to hit and the network's ratings going up 20%. I don't see any of that," said Sam Armando, senior VP, director of strategic intelligence at SMGx.

Instead, there were a lot of comedies and a number of edgy, mysterious dramas, the kinds of shows more likely to have a loyal audience than a large one.

"I'm not saying [ABC's] 666 Park Avenue or [Fox's] The Following or [NBC's] Revolution will fail, but rarely do you see those shows being the ones that put a network over the hump."

John Muszynski, chief investment officer at SMGx, added that he didn't see enough clips during the presentations. "I think more than ever, I have to see pilots before I really make a decision," he said.

Buyers have entered the tight-lipped phase of the upfront where negotiations begin. But they said that in the past few days, the gap between how much money they thought would be in the market and the networks' expectations had narrowed, which may mean smoother talks.

While many clients still haven't finalized their TV ad budgets, "from what I've seen, [demand] is not as aggressive as sellers thought, and I think the sellers are acknowledging that," said Muszynski. "With the scatter market a bit soft, I don't see this market as a runaway of any kind."

And because each network is offering a somewhat different twist on how it prefers to handle digital advertising inventory, the process could slow down.

"Digital makes it more complicated," said Mike Rosen, president for activation at Starcom. "Some of the networks need to sell their digital inventory in order to see revenue growth."

"All of the networks are acknowledging that digital is important, and some even went as far as to talk about how they're going to sell," Muszynski said. "We haven't seen any of those details, and I really seriously question whether we're going to be able to incorporate that into this year's upfront."

At ABC, Geri Wang, president of sales, said the network was prepared to sell both its TV and digital commercial inventory together. "In a world of fragmentation, we are offering aggregations," Wang said. "We are moving from individual silos to one united video strategy" and creating an opportunity to buy "several screens with one single CPM and one guarantee on every screen."

At Fox, sales chief Toby Byrne noted that the network's business is not limited to TV anymore.

"We want to make it easy for your brands to be with our shows, however the audience chooses to watch," Byrne said. "With our Fluidity model, Fox will continue to be the one-stop shopping destination, packaging your specific mix of Fox programming across our multiple distribution one upfront deal."

Fox Networks chairman Peter Rice noted that clients are also interested in getting involved with the network's social media power.

Rice said Fox formed a team called The Bridge that will provide tailored digital solutions, including apps, branded environments and social campaigns. It will also track social activity of Fox shows to help clients reach and engage more consumers with customized content extensions.

With its young audience, the CW has been selling its commercial time on a converged basis, offering advertisers packages that include spots on shows running on TV, on the Web, via its app and mobile.

The CW is using its own form of measurement, based on double-click streams, to measure the number of viewers watching its shows and its ads.

Rob Tuck, executive VP for ad sales at the CW, said the network was working on a measurement system that measures what marketers care more about than demographics-whether the ads are selling products. "That will be coming down the road," Tuck said.

NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert highlighted a number of business issues at his network's upfront. "If we're going to spend all this money on content, it has to be measured and monetized," he said. With programming- and ad campaigns airing on multiple screens- the industry needs cross-industry measurement. "We can't wait for Nielsen to do it," Harbert said.

With so much viewing of primetime programming happening on a delayed basis, "it's time to consider moving to a C7 metric," Harbert said. TV commercials are currently bought based on C3, which measures the viewership of commercial minutes within a program viewed live and within three days of air. Some advertisers already resist paying for commercial viewing beyond the airdate of the commercial they bought, and media buyers are likely to resist moving to a seven-day metric.

When asked about the possibility of considering C7, one top buyer frowned and barked, "no comment."

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