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Editorial: Stop the Insanity

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Read all of B&C’s extensive upfronts coverage – from network-by-network analysis to reaction from Madison Avenue, affiliates and the syndication outlook – in the Monday, May 19 edition of B&C.

After decades of spring upfronts, the saturation point may finally be upon us. At B&C, we consider ourselves fairly intrepid upfront adventurers. Our staff has attended all manner of presentations—uptown, downtown, in cities near and far. We took a boat to Brooklyn. We waited out weather delays. We closed down Roseland Ballroom. After a two-month siege that has seen dozens of cable and digital presentations, we arrived at the traditional climax, the week of May 12-16, only to find that upfronts have simply gotten out of control.

The traditional networks have long owned that mid-May week, but they face more competition than ever for the attention of media buyers and the press. Add in the others—including Turner, ESPN, NBCU cable networks, Univision, Telemundo—and the tally reaches 19 for the week. That’s on top of 23 Digital Content NewFronts the prior week and dozens more cable upfronts since early March.

This roundelay is utterly inefficient. No buyer, no marketplace can absorb this much information over a limited time frame. The TV business is about instinct and nimbleness, but the operative skill during this year’s upfront siege seemed to be forbearance.

At the Telemundo upfront on May 13, one exec shrugged off the crowding. According to their thinking, if you don’t speak to the buyers who are in town for all the broadcasters, when else are you going to get that chance? But Hispanic nets are targeting a growing, vital group of viewers. Is it  really best for them to crowd in alongside the big veterans’ upfront extravaganzas and risk getting overlooked?

The solution is fairly simple, though admittedly challenging. And we understand how this happened. Hispanic outfits that presented this week like Discovery U.S. Hispanic (May 13) and NUVOtv (May 12) want proximity to Univision, the market leader. And once ESPN planted its flag, upstarts like BeIN Sports and ONE World Sports wanted to be counted.

One leader needs to adapt to the marketplace and make the bold move to exit the Big Week. Maybe the Hispanic nets could go the week before the broadcasters. ESPN is holding an event at its Bristol, Conn., campus next week touting its new SportsCenter studio; maybe next year ESPN moves its whole game to the following week? If one leading net can look past the pitch glut of mid-May, anything’s possible. Even restoring some sanity to what’s become the most illogical time of year.