ESPN was the first cabler to pitch its upfront offerings the same week as the broadcasters last year, and this year will hold its presentation the day before Turner on the morning of May 13.
David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting Sales and Turner Sports, said the group's announcement is a reflection of the agnostic approach to TV viewing already adopted by the general public. "The overall feeling for us is that the consumers do not consume television on broadcast and cable. They consume television like television," he said. "We've been saying for the last couple years now that it's a one-television world, and buyers and clients should be buying TV, not buying cable and not buying broadcast."
Forget the cocktail parties
Now that at least seven high-profile presentations are scheduled for the same week, the media buyers, who have been most vocal about streamlining the length of the shows, may not be so pleased about cramming another presentation into their schedules. Steve Kalb, senior VP-director of broadcast at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, told Ad Age last month that the upfront presentations are still a good place for his clients to get a broader perspective of the networks' offerings for the TV season, but the rest of the week can be not-so-productive. "They can forget their cocktail parties and all that," he said.
Yet the fact that more cable networks are now able to flaunt their wares in front of advertisers during the biggest week of the TV-selling season is a direct sign of cable's increasing role as a formidable competitor to broadcast, particularly in prime time. Michael Nathanson, a senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., wrote in a January report on the TV marketplace that basic cable's collective share of prime-time viewing has been larger than broadcast since second-quarter 2006, a ratio that grew to 58.7% cable vs. 41.3% broadcast in adults aged 18-49 in prime time in fourth-quarter 2007.
This shifting dynamic in the TV selling process prompted Mr. Nathanson to write in his report, "[T]he economics of TV advertising supply and demand will create continued pricing inflation for broadcast TV as advertiser demand for inventory will unlikely fall as fast as the drop in broadcast TV. Thus, broadcasters, as has been the case in 2007, will be able to charge extremely high scatter pricing rates for the very limited amount of inventory that can be sold. This dynamic will continue to benefit cable networks as they can use broadcast's pricing umbrella and weak audience delivery to sell-out the 50% of their network inventory that is available in scatter."
TNT, TBS on top
TNT and TBS have been at the forefront of the ratings growth, with TNT in particular breaking all-time cable ratings records with its wildly popular Kyra Sedgwick drama "The Closer." Both networks have taken a broadcast approach to their programming last year by adding original series like "Saving Grace," "Frank TV" and Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" to their Monday-to-Wednesday lineups. TNT announced it would expand that strategy by making original programming part of its prime-time schedule three nights a week by 2010.
Although May 14 will mark the official announcement of the networks' schedules, Mr. Levy added that the Turner team has, to date, scheduled over 150 meetings with individual agencies and clients. The increased focus on integrated deals and branded entertainment means the sales and production groups need to be in front of the marketplace earlier to execute these new partnerships.
Already greenlit for production this year at TNT are "Raising the Bar," a new legal drama from "NYPD Blue" creator Steven Bochco, and "Leverage," a crime series from producer Dean Devlin starring Timothy Hutton. The network is also considering adding "Truth in Advertising," a modern-day "Mad Men" set in the Chicago ad world, as well as unscripted series from producers such as Mark Burnett and Ridley Scott.
TBS is currently developing new comedies from creators Betty Thomas and Dave Caplan for possible production, and has already commissioned a pilot for an updated "Match Game" from FremantleMedia.
TruTV, formerly known as Court TV, has greenlit six new original reality series for 2008, including Texas oil drama "Black Gold" and "Man vs. Cartoon," which will investigate the scientific possibilities of some of Warner Brothers' most famous animated scenarios, such as whether rocket skates would actually function.