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Little Money in Market as Ad Execs Get Back to Work

The television advertising world was unusually quiet over the summer and media buyers don’t expect a rush of activity now that Labor Day has passed and a new season approaches.

Back from the holidays, buyers are now working with their clients to turn upfront reservations— called holds—into orders. The 2012 upfront didn’t measure up to 2011’s, and there doesn’t appear to be much money in the pipeline to improve the picture for the networks.

“This is that crazy week where everybody wakes up and says, ‘I’m going on the air in a couple of weeks. I’ve got to get this stuff ordered. Can I get my contract?’” says Rob Tuck, executive VP for ad sales at The CW.

Tuck says that so far, orders are tracking what was booked in the upfront. “We’re really not seeing much if any change,” he says.

But Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at media buying giant GroupM, says, “You’re going to have some breakage.” That breakage— fallout and cuts from upfront buys—will be in the usual 2%-3% range, Scanzoni says.

Then, Scanzoni adds, “We’re going to be dealing with a relatively lackluster scatter market, which I think is clearly going to be a challenge in the fourth quarter. And I think we’re going to see that into 2013.”

During their second-quarter earnings calls, most media companies said they experienced a slowdown in the scatter market for the third quarter because of ad money flowing to the Olympics. Most said they expected a recovery in the fourth quarter.

But another major buyer says that normally at this time of year, a number of clients try to add money to their upfront buys to take advantage of prices that are lower than scatter. This year, however, “we’ve seen very, very little of that,” the buyer says. “I think that probably the big takeaway is without any new money and a little slippage [as upfront holds go to order], the networks and the cable companies are going to be disappointed with their sales volume.”

As far as the scatter market goes, one key will be how much money retail companies will spend starting in October ahead of the holiday season. Marketers will also be looking at the November election returns as an indicator as to whether or not the economy is likely to improve.

Tuck says The CW has done a little bit of early fourth-quarter scatter business. “We’ve had some rumblings of people checking out some pricing,” he says, adding that prices are above upfront levels. “I would suspect that once we get past these [upfront] orders, then at least [advertisers] know what they need and things will start picking up.”

Tuck says he’s excited for the season to start. “This is the time of year when you’re just so anxious to get your new stuff on,” he says.

But Sam Armando, senior VP and director of strategic intelligence at SMGx, part of Starcom Mediavest Group, says new shows on the networks’ fall schedules have caused little excitement among clients and little buzz with viewers.

Armando says the new crop of shows was about average and that the broadcast networks will continue to endure ratings erosion—as will the top cable networks—in the face of DVR playback in primetime, new over-the-top viewing options and other entertainment options.

“It’s been a really quiet summer. Usually we get cast changes, title changes, schedule changes. There hasn’t been a lot of buzz,” Armando says.

Of course, in the TV business there’s always next year. One cable network ad sales executive says he’s already starting to schedule meetings with media planners over the next two to three months to lay the groundwork for the channel’s position for next year’s upfront. “It’s like Groundhog Day. We just start the cycle all over again,” the executive says.

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