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MediaVest's Merrifield Sees Digital as a Growing Player in the TV Upfronts

Christine Merrifield was promoted to president, video
investment and activation at MediaVest in January, succeeding Donna
Speciale, who left to join Turner Broadcasting. With more than 20 years in the
media agency business, and after already running the agency's upfront
negotiations for major clients such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Kraft,
Merrifield made the transition without a hitch.

This week, Merrifield took some time out from her busy
schedule to talk about the recently completed TV upfront and the
advertising marketplace.

Looking at this
year's broadcast upfront, many of the network sales executives were upset with
media coverage that portrayed the upfront deals, both cost-per-thousand price
increases and overall revenue intake, as being disappointing for the networks.
That is something they have taken issue with. How do you view this past upfront
from an agency perspective?

I wasn't necessarily disappointed with the marketplace. It came in about
where I thought it would for my clients. I do think the networks would have
liked to have seen more money spent in the upfront but at the end of the day, I
think the networks are happy with how things turned out. And our clients are
happy. But it's not for me to worry about how the networks did or how they

How important has
digital video become in upfront deals?

Digital has been part of my world for the past three or four years. There
are so many avenues to take. Do I see digital money from advertisers
increasing? Yes. My clients are very video focused. The deals we did spanned
the gamut in the upfront. Digital was incorporated into every one of our
deals -- not just with the TV networks but also with publishing deals we've
done. Because that's what our clients want -- more of a total market approach.
Everyone is getting into a convergence mindset. We did deals with digital
extensions in broadcast, cable and print. We are now buying video, not simply
television. Digital as a percentage of upfront dollars is growing and this year
may have been the turning point. This was a year in which almost all
clients demanded digital as part of their upfront buys. Viewers
are watching more video digitally and that's where we want to be,
where the consumers are.

How have digital
and convergence changed the upfront?

It's no longer easy to buy in the upfront. It's not as simple as it used to be
when you just were buying TV commercial time. We don't do just that anymore. You
can't compare the upfronts of 10 or even five years ago. Today the deals are deeper
than just GRPs [gross ratings points] or total ad dollars spent. There are many
more factors that go into a buy. Today there are digital and branded
entertainment opportunities that are part of the upfront mix.

You represent some
major clients who spend big bucks in the upfront. How would you describe
yourself as a negotiator?

I'm not a bully. I am more strategic. If there is not an area that falls into
our business plan for a client, we just move on.

Is there ever going
to be a time when TV ad pricing hits a ceiling? Or will it be that, as long as
both cable and broadcast networks can reach that immediate mass audience,
pricing will continue to rise every year no matter what?

Right now, primetime demand is still healthy. There is still content on
television that our brands feel they need to be attached to. As long as there
is heavy demand for a product where there is a finite amount of GRPs, then the
price will not go down. And the demand for television continues to be high. But
pricing can be changed as other options come into play. The more clients are
able to spread out their spending, the more prices will level off. More dollars
are starting to flow into digital but it will be through a natural progression.
You can't just jump into digital blindly. You have to do due diligence
before you do your first deals and they have to be good ones because they will
set the tone for future deals. Social media has also become a
factor. Brands want to expand into social media that is tied into television
because it becomes a good complement for their brands-conversations combined
with television.

Are more clients
showing interest in Hispanic media, and what kind of spending growth potential
do you see there?

We have plans for our clients that involve the total market. Especially
since the last census, Hispanic media has been on the radar of all of our
clients. I believe Hispanic media is becoming part of the DNA of all media
planning and buying.

How important is TV
sports advertising to clients who may have not been big spenders there in past?

I think sports offers a universal language. It unifies small towns. Men and
women both watch. It generates conversation. People are gravitating to sports
because it is something that takes their minds off the troubled economy. Every
demo watches sports. It's a great opportunity for advertisers. It's live. It's
something they are talking about the next day while getting a cup of coffee in
their local 7-Eleven. The ratings are good. It has a good community feel.
Sports reach all demographics. Sports is comfort food for the