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Kanefsky Keeps Cautious Eye On Economy

Jason Kanefsky likes to keep one hand on the remote and one wary eye on the economy. The executive VP and head of strategic investments at media agency MPG participated in last spring’s upbeat and quickly concluded upfront market for national television. But if most buyers saw the early close of upfront business as a good reason to calmly take time off over the summer, Kanefsky saw it as anything but.

“I’m going to be redoing all these deals for the next three months,” he says, noting that changes in the economy will mean a change in the TV market.

“What the economy looked like in May is very different from what it’s going to look like in September,” Kanefsky says. “It’s going to be much worse.” During the upfront, he adds, “We were spending like drunken sailors.”

Consumers now look like they’ve stopped spending and are paying down their current debts. Businesses, meanwhile, are bracing for a possible period of deflation, with prices going down.

“That’s a more difficult time for advertisers,” Kanefsky says. “And that’s why people hate the upfront. It’s not because they don’t like buying inventory in advance, it’s that they don’t like [doing it] in an economy they’re not certain of.”

Kanefsky considers reading the economy a key part of his job. “If advertising demand is directly correlated to [Gross Domestic Product], then it’s my job,” he says. “Everything else is silly. Supply and demand is nice, but if you can’t get a focus on where the economy is going, then you can’t build any kind of intelligent model that says this is what the market should be.”

With Kanefsky’s belief that the economy is souring, he thinks there’s a chance deals can get redone before his clients’ commercials air—even if he’s the only one in the market feeling that way.

In the upfront, buyers reserve commercials. Those holds turn to real orders on a quarter-by-quarter basis, when clients have options to send back spots.

“I don’t think [the networks] expect that everything they sold will go to order,” Kanefsky says. “The concern for them is they sold deep and if options come in, who’s going to pick up the difference?

“Hopefully, the economy gets better and we all sing our way through it. But I don’t see it. Nobody can tell me why the economy will get better on the consumer side.”

Kanefsky doesn’t consider himself a pessimist so much as a realist. And current tumult aside, he really likes his job.

As a kid growing up in Queens, N.Y., he remembers reading TV ratings in the New York Post. “I wanted to know where my favorite shows ranked and why certain shows did better than others,” he remembers. “My parents always said to me, ‘What are you going to do for a living? Watch TV?’ And I said, ‘If there’s a job like that, that would be spectacular.’”

While attending Queens College, he got an internship at NBC and saw the full picture of what agencies and networks do. “I didn’t know there were people who actually bought media for a living,” he says. That was when he realized his career path.

“I didn’t fall into this. It was a predetermined route,” he says. “I ended up where I wanted to be, which is a blessing; most people don’t get to do that.”

Kanefsky feels that way despite long hours that leave little time for anything other than coming home and spending time with his family. He and his wife have two daughters, 14 and 11.

“I’ll call the house to see how loud it is,” he says. “If there’s too much yelling, I’ll just stay [at the office] and wait it out.”

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