LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- For decades, fall was the big season for new series and excitement, but for TV enthusiasts in recent years -- and this one in particular -- it seems January is the place to be when it comes to buzzed-about new programming. That could benefit upfront TV buyers who are getting make-goods in January's so-called "second season" programming to make up for fall shows that didn't deliver.
Several high-profile shows are launching in the back half of the season, from Fox's "American Idol" and "24" to ABC's "Lost" (about to enter its last season on the air), but aside from those usual powerhouses, buyers say they are interested in new series including "Human Target," NBC's "Parenthood" and Jerry Seinfeld-created "The Marriage Ref," as well as CW's "Life Unexpected."
With prices for scatter well above levels of last year's upfront, buyers are hoping they can use make-goods owed from the first half of the season to get better deals. They also believe scatter -- which is traditionally priced higher than upfront inventory -- might be less costly in the early part of the season than the rates sought by the networks in the months leading up to the holiday season.
"January has historically been a place where networks can put people back in," said Shelley Watson, senior VP-director of entertainment, for Santa Monica-based agency RPA. "The marketplace is more confident now than it was all of last year, so if you're an upfront advertiser I would imagine you're being paid back or working towards being paid back for under-delivery that carried over from last quarter."
Last year's upfront was down about 15% from 2008 due to recession-conscious marketers holding back dollars and TV networks holding back ad inventory in the hopes of charging more for it later. And the slate of talked-about new programming stands to drive more interest and attract some of the money that was held back before -- though at a higher price than might have been offered in last year's protracted upfront.
Signs of hope
"We all know what 2009 brought to most people, and 2010 is still challenging. But as viewers and advertisers we attempt to be optimistic, and I think that can translate to a new schedule," said Jon Stimmel, senior VP-group client director for Publicis' MediaVest.
Ad buyers suggested some retail and automotive dollars have returned to the market, and one network ad-sales executive said wireless and telecommunications dollars have remained relatively steady throughout the current season.
The strong slate might also help ratings erosion, which one buyer said seems to be less than in prior years. Still, the erosion, which has plagued broadcast TV for the past several years as more viewers make use of new technology such as digital video recorders and online video, continues. Season-to-date as of Jan. 13, only Fox has posted an increase in prime-time viewers, up 1% year-over-year in total viewers and 4% in adults 18 to 49, according to research from Wells Fargo Securities. NBC has lost 3% of its total viewers thus far and 7% of adults 18 to 49, while ABC and CBS have both slid 4% and 7% in the respective demos, Wells Fargo said.
NBC is likely to draw attention; the network has announced that it will replace "The Jay Leno Show" with more traditional programming after its broadcast of the Winter Olympics. "Being someone who wants to get the full value of their dollars, I would love to see NBC return 10 p.m. to quality original dramas or comedies -- something that delivers the kind of ratings and positioning NBC always used to be good at," MediaVest's Mr. Stimmel said.
Another buyer joked, "I would not like to see a three-hour 'Biggest Loser' or five nights of 'Dateline.'"
That formula, however, might do well for cable. Wells Fargo analyst John Janedis estimated that some cable networks secured scatter pricing that was at least 15% higher than that of upfront commitments, with some networks securing pricing 20% higher or more. But the demand isn't due to hot new programming: the highest-rated cable shows are still football, "NCIS" repeats and "SpongeBob Squarepants."
Shows to WatchHUMAN TARGET
Fox, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. (premiered Jan. 17, moves to Wednesdays Jan. 27) Based on the DC Comics graphic novel "Human Target," it represents Fox's latest attempt to create an action series on par with signature show "24" and is a smart play for the comic-book crowd. Buyers think the show could attract a lot of young men in a timeslot that has it competing with ABC and CBS' comedies and NBC's "Mercy," as well as leading into "American Idol."
The CW, Mondays, 9 p.m. (premieres Jan. 18) The network that introduced "Gossip Girl" and resurrected "90210" and "Melrose Place" into the cultural lexicon is going the warm and fuzzy route with this drama about a 15-year-old girl reunited with her birth parents. The series seems to hark back to WB dramas of yore like "Gilmore Girls" and "Everwood." Said Shelley Watson, senior VP-entertainment at independent media agency RPA, "It doesn't have the same cultural hysteria 'Gossip Girl' has, but it's a quality show and we expect good things."
NBC, Tuesdays, 10 p.m. (premieres March 2) Buyers haven't seen the pilot of this NBC comedic drama since the series hit a last-minute casting snafu when lead actress Maura Tierney dropped out. But they expect good things from this second TV adaptation of Ron Howard's 1989 comedy, which also stars Craig T. Nelson, Peter Krause and Erika Christensen. "It's got a great cast and some really good people creatively on the show. It's the kind of show NBC needs right now," said David Scardino, an entertainment specialist at RPA.