ALLIANCE SCRUTINIZED AS NET TV UPFRONT WRAPS JWT, O&M MEDIA BUYING ARM SUFFERS SOME COORDINATION WOES

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The network TV upfront marketplace wrapped up last week, with total advance prime-time sales reaching around $6 billion as expected, up about 6% from last year.

The most controversial aspect of the wrangling: a focus on the debut performance of the Alliance, the combined media buying arm of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co. and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

At the time of its formation in April, JWT and O&M executives said the Alliance's purpose was to pool some $2 billion in spending to bring a tremendous amount of clout to the upfront marketplace.

'DID NOT GO WELL'

"It started out as an unmitigated disaster and then got better," was one network insider's assessment of the venture's initial effort. Admitted an executive close to the agencies, "The first outing did not go well logistically."

During one conference call between a TV network and representatives of both agencies, the agency reps "quickly found out that [the conference call format] wouldn't work," said one executive. "It took forever and nothing was really getting done."

After that, the procedure was that managers at the two agencies were called separately.

"It ended up that they just made client deals separately, and nothing was done simultaneously," said a network manager.

Added another: "A lot of the media people at the shops we worked with in years past felt ignored. And sometimes, I'd have a price agreed to with one of the shops, and then the other shop would try and low-ball me and that would screw up the first deal to their disadvantage. So much for clout."

"The idea was never to do deals simultaneously," countered the executive close to the agencies. Ford Motor Co., a JWT client, for example, "is in a different class, being a major automotive, so of course its deals will be separate."

'OVERALL WE'RE PLEASED'

Jean Pool, exec VP-North America media buying services at JWT, defended the Alliance.

"It was about the sharing of information," she said. "There's no question that we stopped each other from making mistakes, and that we beat the market in average cost-per-thousands."

Ms. Pool said that minor glitches were expected because of the scale of the venture.

"I'm going to make certain recommendations to make it better next time, but overall we're very pleased," she said.

Added a WPP insider, "I'm not surprised the networks are grousing. That tells me it worked well. I think they are afraid others will do this on the agency side, which will put them to further disadvantage."

"It worked well for all parties involved," said Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president-broadcast and programming USA for O&M.

$1 BIL DAY FOR NBC

At week's end, the network's were toting up their totals for the prime-time market. NBC was said to have cleared about $2.1 billion-including the first $1 billion day, on June 5-with increases in the 12% to 14% range. ABC followed with about $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion and CPM increases between 7% and 8%. CBS cleared about $1.25 billion, with 8% to 9% increases, while Fox was close behind, writing about $1.1 billion worth of business at 10% to 11% increases. WB managed about $150 million, followed by UPN at $125 million to $135 million.

With the broadcast upfront completed, agency buyers are now turning their attention to cable TV.

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