Media buyers who pumped $9.1 billion into broadcast TV during last spring’s upfront are considering it money well spent, as execs say they are upbeat about how the new season is unfolding so far. There are some encouraging signs, the buyers say, particularly when it comes to the comedy genre.
“It’s still very early, obviously, but it’s nice to see some things have succeeded,” says Chris Geraci, president of national broadcast at OMD.
Geraci says that for the first two weeks of the season, the broadcast networks were down about 3% in the 18-49 demo based on live-plus-same-day viewing. Given the steady erosion of broadcast viewership as so many other choices have proliferated, Geraci says a 3% decline really isn’t too bad and that advertisers who bought in the upfront are getting what they paid for, so far.
The C3 average commercial minute ratings that most media buys are based on won’t begin to be available for the new season until this week. While there may be some shows helped more than others, overall “we’ve got a very tight correlation now between a program rating and a C3 by genre, so you pretty much know what to expect,” Geraci says.
The upfront took place just before economic worries intensified and the stock market began making wild swings, mostly on the downside. But the advertising market has remained remarkably unaffected so far.
“The television marketplace continues to exist, at least the national television marketplace, in almost a parallel universe,” says Geraci.
The upfront was strong, and nearly all of the ad time reserved in May and June turned into firm orders as the season began. “Budgets are sticking. Holds went to order pretty much intact,” says Ava Jordhamo, president of execution at Zenith Media. Where there were cuts, networks were able to make up the dollars with advertisers adding to their previous orders, she adds.
“Since the networks took advantage of the strong marketplace to sell more inventory than usual, there should be fewer spots available in the fourth-quarter scatter market,” Geraci says. “At the same time, there’s probably going to be less demand to some degree because we definitely saw more scatter money moving into the upfront really as a hedge against inflation and all of the craziness that went on in the scatter markets last year.” Some additional inventory will probably get taken out of sale to make up for audience de! ciencies, and at that point “you’ve got a situation where the money that does come in could be fairly in" ationary,” Geraci adds. That hasn’t happened yet, “but it’s still pretty early.”
Also, with penetration of digital video recorders higher than ever and viewers having more options for seeing network shows, buyers think there is more sampling going on than in previous seasons, making it harder to determine which broadcaster will succeed over the long run.
Zenith Media’s Jordhamo says her DVRs are already filled up, and thinks many viewers are facing a similar dilemma: “There’s so much head-to-head competition. There’s a ton of sampling going on,” making it too early to definitively pick winners and losers.
“I think we will see an increase in time-shifting. That may mean there’s some change in viewership behavior,” adds Jordhamo.
One definite shift for viewers appears to be the resurgence of half-hour comedies, which Jordhamo calls one of the season’s early bright spots. “Comedy’s the toughest nut to crack,” she says, noting that the success of Modern Family was a “big turning point” for ABC, which also looks like it is doing well with Suburgatory and Happy Endings. “Seems like comedy might have a life,” Jordhamo adds.
Fox has been a big winner so far, but in an odd twist, not as big a winner as it was expected to be with three highly touted new shows—The X Factor, Terra Nova and New Girl.
“When the dust clears, I think Fox should be pretty happy,” says David Scardino, entertainment specialist at ad agency RPA. “I guess the question there is how much are they victimized by their own hype.”
Scardino says he’s a bit surprised by what appears to be a consensus among buyers that The X Factor would do American Idol-size numbers. Despite the hoopla surrounding the show, he says it was important to note that American Idol had actually done better without Simon Cowell last season than it had with him the previous season. And there was also a chance that competition shows were nearing the saturation point. “I would hope for our industry, on the agency side anyway, that in the privacy of client presentations that a lot of the enthusiasm being shown at least in public comments was tempered,” Scardino says.
The shows helped Fox win the Wednesday and Thursday of premiere week for the first time ever, but the buzz was about how The X Factor—and to some degree Terra Nova—had fallen short of their high expectations. “If we weren’t talking about a show that had been so relentlessly hyped, I think people would be saying kudos to Fox,” Scardino says.
Buyers were also mostly pleased that the networks had not rushed to cancel new series or rearrange their lineups—until NBC solved the industry’s firstto- be-cancelled pools by getting rid of its bunnies.
“Generally, I think the networks have a little too itchy a cancellation trigger finger,” says Scardino, who rightly predicted that axed The Playboy Club and Free Agents were not long for this world. “In general, if I were running a network I would wait three or four weeks to see what’s going on. When you start making wholesale changes, it just confuses the hell out of everybody.”
On top of that, Scardino notes that NBC can’t cancel shows that fall beneath a certain rating because they would have to cancel half their schedule. “I think the expectations and the standards change depending on what network you’re sitting at,” he says.
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