"The only people who think it's broken are those that don't play," said Jon Mandel, chief global buying officer of MediaCom, now part of WPP's Group M. "Every client with a media background gets it. ... When you know the beast, it's easier to deal with the beast."
Along with Mr. Mandel, such seasoned sales heads as Fox Broadcasting's Jon Nesvig, Discovery Networks' Joe Abruzzese, MTV Networks' Larry Divney and Rainbow National Networks' Arlene Manos praised the current system, just weeks before the annual selling market begins.
Mr. Mandel was quick to attack Julie Roehm's controversial proposal at the recent Association of National Advertisers TV Forum. Ms. Roehm, director of brand communication for DaimlerChrysler, advocated a transparent market modeled after Nasdaq, rather than the private system that she said benefits networks but not necessarily clients.
"I love Steve Grubbs [CEO of PHD, Chrysler's media buying agency]," he said, "but I blame it on him because he obviously hasn't explained to his client how it works."
Fox's Mr. Nesvig played a gentler card. "I play the role of the old dog," he said. "I managed to outlast Enron Media," referring to a 2000 Enron proposal to commoditize spot TV.
In an earlier panel discussion, however, Bob Brennan, director-marketing services for Miller Brewing Co. and a former chief operating officer at Starcom, criticized the media-buying business for its stagnancy. Returning to it as a client after three years at Leo Burnett Worldwide, he said "there's been very little fundamental change in thinking."
Mr. Brennan questioned whether TV is headed for the same fate as commercial radio. "It seems to me we're going from 80% commercial engagement to avoidance," he said. Later, on another panel, Fox's Mr. Nesvig drew applause when he said that "80% commercial avoidance is a myth."
Engagement proved to be a buzzword, prompting panelists to debate the merits of video on demand and broadband video as opt-in alternatives.
Todd Herman of MSN Video estimated that 80% of MSN's streaming video revenue comes from the upfront budgets of top TV brands and Tim Hanlon, senior VP-director of emerging contacts at Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group, said there are "8-figures of TV dollars being spent in broadband. Additionally, he predicts VOD will change the way advertisers think of a TV pod.
For Jonah Bloom's take on how to deal with upfront, see P. 28