In the past, big TV networks swore no consumer was as important as one who watched a big TV screen. Those same media outlets now offer a decidedly different theory: A consumer who watches a show on a computer or tablet is just as good as one watching on the living-room boob tube.
In a sign of how this year's broadcast upfront conversations may shape up, Walt Disney's ABC has begun talking to media buyers about purchasing ads in programs such as "Modern Family" both when they air live and wherever they're available on demand -- including the full-episode player on ABC's website, cable systems' video-on-demand channels, and iPad and iPhone apps.An average of 10% of the network's prime-time audience now comes from on-demand viewing, according to Geri Wang, ABC's president-sales and marketing.
The idea is to "plus up" an ABC ad buy by packaging on-demand with traditional viewers for "one combined video opportunity," Ms. Wang said in an interview.
ABC intends to remain "flexible" and not go out with specific mandates about how such ad plans need to be built, she said. It plans to use standard "commercial ratings ," or "C3," because they encompass DVR viewing up to three days after a show first airs, along with ad-served impressions for on-demand viewers.
ABC has been extending its offer as part of a series of meetings it has been holding with media-buying agencies to discuss development plans for the next fall season. (Rival networks have also been holding meetings.)
At the sessions, ABC is touting more than 25 new programs it is considering for a prime-time berth this autumn, Ms. Wang said. Among them are "Last Resort," an international thriller from the producers of "The Shield" featuring Andre Braugher; "Nashville," a country-music serial from the writer of "Thelma & Louise"; and "Wonderful World," a sitcom about a couple who discover their neighbors belong are aliens.
While the shows remain important, how people watch them is getting more emphasis. Whereas an old-school couch potato was once the advertiser's most-coveted TV fan, a bevy of media concerns suggest that one type of viewer is as good as another.
Nielsen recently announced plans to provide ratings for a program's combined online and TV viewership, as long as the ads in the online stream match the ads on the air. Fox told clients at last year's upfront that it would work to "extend the ability of your ads to travel with our content across screens to create a unified audience experience regardless of platform." That meant piecing together ad buys on the air with those that pertained to Fox.com and Hulu, the video-sharing site in which Fox parent News Corp.owns a stake.
The CW, jointly owned by CBS Corp. and Time Warner , in 2010 offered combined TV and online video packages -- an effort to capture the digital traction accorded to shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "Vampire Diaries," traction that doesn't show up in traditional Nielsen ratings .
ABC has some impetus to make such an offer. Over the years, the network has built out a widely acclaimed online-video player and apps that have generated decent-sized audiences. ABC also established a crucial policy when it comes to allowing its shows to be used in video-on-demand libraries offered by cable distributors: Viewers can't fast-forward past the ads.
One ad buyer familiar with some of the recent development meetings indicated that many TV networks are pitching ways to package advertising across different types of viewing. Buyers are looking at how easy the TV outlets can make the process and will scrutinize everything, from back-office processes to proprietary ad-serving techniques when making a decision, the person said.
Of course, ABC is also hoping its content proves so alluring that advertisers will feel they have to make things work. Ms. Wang said the network is offering a mix of dramas, comedies and reality designed to appeal to a consumer who still feels the recession's effects but also senses impending stability. As such, ABC's programs will play off such themes as fairy-tale escapism, sexy soap operas or rebellion against establishment players.