Memo to Buyers: We'll Wait ... You'll Pay

Medium's Mass Reach Commands Share of Even Today's Shrunken Budgets

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TO: Our advertisers
FROM: CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC and the CW
RE: This year's TV upfront

You've been singing the same song for months: Money is tight. You want price rollbacks. You've got no reason to put down cash early when scatter looks so cheap and is so readily available. So, yeah, we realize this upfront is going to be prolonged and you'll use non-broadcast media as a bargaining chip.

But here's how we will once again get you to fork over a majority of your ad dollars to TV: We're going to be flexible this year. Need to hold some cash in reserve? Go ahead -- we'll wait. Need to make a case to the CFO about why it costs so much to sponsor next year's "Lost" finale? Take your time. We'll still do business with you. Just keep in mind: If the economy starts to rise, so, too, will our prices. Not that we're admitting to discounting to start with. And while you're thinking about it, here are some things to ponder.

You need us, and we know you do

You really need to speak to our Thursday-night audiences to help goose your movie openings and weekend sales. You'd better reserve some of our ad time now for holiday pitches. We've got the scale no one else has. And for all the talk of metrics in other media, and all our own musings on measurement, the bottom line is we both know nothing moves product like TV. Oh, and by the way, doesn't it stand to reason that our audiences, hoping to conserve cash just like you, are going to stay at home and watch even more of our programming in the weeks ahead?

We'll make some concessions

Even though TV is a mass medium, you've been crying out for a range of stuff that plays to specific demos and psychographics. We get that. You want to latch on to specific episodes, programs, audiences. And we've been giving it to you -- well, at least a little bit. But now we're really going to crank it up (well, just a little bit more). And no, we're not talking web video.

Were you listening to Fox Broadcasting's Jon Nesvig? He made the point the best last week, talking up limited-availability opportunities, such as this fall's "Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live," where viewers will be told of ingredients (that's right, your cream of mushroom, Campbell, and your Singles, Kraft) to be bought ahead of time, and then will cook along with the irascible celebrity chef. Mr. Nesvig, Fox's president-sales, is selling sponsorships and integrations for that specific event. He's also offering chances to sponsor an interactive "Simpsons" scavenger hunt, during which characters and "Simpsons" references will be tucked into Fox shows, promos and, yes, commercials.

You heard last week how Subway saved "Chuck" by talking to NBC about stepping up its presence in the show, where it has already had some rather intrusive appearances. "Chuck" won't be back until 2010, and who knows what will happen to its fan base in the meantime, but isn't this the specialized kind of stuff you people say you're asking for?

It's sort of like a magazine publisher telling you about a special themed issue coming out months from now. There's only so much space, and the chance won't come up again, so you'd better get your money down. By the way, we're not like a magazine publisher, so get that idea out of your heads.

You're making us work harder

Instead, fill your mind with this: This stuff isn't easy for us to do. We're a mass medium. We're set up so that your messages hit the greatest number of people. We take your ads and fling them around the schedule so lots of people see them and they make an impression on weary consumers. We aren't really prepared to create customized ads for each and every one of you in each and every one of our shows. This stuff takes months and months of work.

We know you're hurting, however, so we'll try to do our best (and let's be honest, when ABC -- known among you folks for being a little stiff-necked when it comes to product integrations -- lets the Enterprise from "Star Trek" fly though the O in the title sequence of "Lost," it's obvious we're more than open to this kind of thing). But it's going to cost a little more -- OK, a lot more -- than usual.

You don't really have anywhere else to go for broad reach

Speaking of mass medium, didn't you hear anything CBS said during its presentation? You're letting NBC's problems color your view of what we do. "There's a big difference between the model being broken and not being able to find any hit shows for years," said Leslie Moonves, president-CEO of CBS Corp., last week.

And let's put to rest that nagging you've been hearing from our cable rivals. So you're foaming at the mouth about "The Closer" on TNT. Even Peter Rice, the new chairman of entertainment at Fox, watches it. "And it delivers 6.8 million viewers every week. That's a great number. But if it was a broadcast show, there are 75 broadcast shows that deliver more viewers than that," he said during a conference call last week.

Leslie and Peter aren't being apologetic in a downturn. That means it will be tough for any of us to take a less aggressive stance and risk not bringing in the volume we need to fill our media-conglomerate coffers and keep our mogul bosses happy.

We know money is down, but we still have to make our numbers

So let's cut that talk about rollbacks (at least in public). Again, let us quote Mr. Nesvig: "There's been much speculation and statements in the press about the television marketplace. But, let me state categorically, for the record: Fox Broadcasting has not rolled back any upfront CPMs for deals made in the current TV season." It's a pretty severe recession. You're not fooling around, and neither are we, but maybe you want to come to the negotiating table and see if we can't both be a little flexible.

And don't think for a minute that all of us TV folks are in this together. We are going to fight each other tooth and nail. Some of you think Fox will try to cajole its best clients, the movie studios, into putting money down ASAP to spark the market and set prices. Maybe. Maybe CBS will get things going by cutting a few deals for the Super Bowl. Some of you think NBC is going to undercut the market, hoping to drive volume and force CBS and ABC to take prices down. We're here to tell you CBS and ABC don't want to hear about NBC's prices.

But let's not fight. You need mass delivery. We need your money. There's got to be a way to get you to the table. The door is open, and we're pretty sure you're going to walk through it before Labor Day rolls around.

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