The network is now talking to media-buying agencies about the possibility of basing ratings guarantees on live-plus-same-day program ratings and reverting to "live" should the industry decide that the standard audience measurement metric continue. Of course, given this is the upfront market, there's no way to tell how much of the talk is posturing. But it would be a savvy way for ABC to boost its upfront dollars.
ABC's Mr. Shaw has widely been expected to set the pace for this year's upfront market. But media buyers say he is now more open to other possibilities because of the pressure that rivals will grab share, particularly Fox, which just finished a triumphant season, winning the 18-to-49 demographic race. ABC did not comment by press time.
"ABC is out trying to nudge some agencies to do live-plus-same-day," said one agency executive, who explained that based on that scenario, the Walt Disney Co. network would rake in extra dollars for those additional viewers watching the same day and then hand out additional units for underdelivery if the industry decides on "live."
"They're hedging so they can get the money," said one buyer. Another executive said that he didn't believe that ABC will even get deals done on a live-plus-same-day basis and that the industry is holding out for "live-only" period.
ABC is rumored to have met with OMD, among other shops, but executives say the two parties did not come to any resolution. Neither ABC nor OMD would comment. Agencies are holding firm on demands that they should not have to pay for viewers who are watching commercials in playback and are most likely zapping the ads.
Nielsen currently provides three streams of ratings data: those who watch shows live, those who watch shows in playback via DVRs the same day (live-plus-same-day) and those who watch shows in playback a week later (live-plus-seven-days).
Demand for Fox
ABC, however, isn't the only network out with a softer position. Media buyers are also reporting potential heavy demand for Fox and, while no one's cutting deals, there's heightened upfront chatter given the expectation that Fox will be more flexible on the ratings-currency issue. Fox is also facing off against Viacom's youth-focused cable giant MTV Networks, which is understood to be offering to negotiate with the existing ratings currency, which is live viewing. (Though, technically, viewers who watch shows on VCRs are counted as live.) MTV was not immediately available at press time to corroborate MTV's "live" stance.
Additionally, Fox is under pressure to translate programming successes such as "American Idol" and "Prison Break" into real money this year. Fox won the season for the second year running in the key 18- to 49-year-old advertiser demographic. If it doesn't, industry observers say it would be regarded as a failure for the News Corp. network.
Fox has said it will "do what it takes to do business," a comment that buyers are interpreting as a sign the network will back away from the live-plus-seven debate. Fox has traditionally been an early upfront mover given that movie studios and automakers tend to want to get their money down to secure key shows.
"Fox could create some movement in movie studios; they're the category doing live-only," said one buyer. "NBC has also whispered that to us," said another buyer, referring to NBC's willingness to be flexible. Another said the market was wide open for one of the broadcast networks to come in and take a leadership position.
Another buyer said that CBS had been practically silent on the issue. "I'd like to see CBS come on in and do some business. [CBS President-Sales] Jo Ann Ross could step up and grab a little share while ABC is not looking. We'd be open to that discussion. ABC has the buzz, but CBS has been pretty solid."
The jointly owned CBS Corp./Time Warner network the CW can not be left behind in the debate. The network is said to be delivering some pricing data to agencies tomorrow. CW had no comment.
With agencies sensing the wind at their backs this upfront, buyers are reiterating that cost-per-thousand rate increases will be in the low-single-digits and well below last year's levels.