GET READY FOR '97

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While the competition waits, and waits, for the major broadcast TV networks to become irrelevant, the nets are continuing to rake in the coin. During this spring's record upfront TV time-buying market, they hauled in commitments for an estimated $5.7 billion for next season's prime time. Rates rose an estimated 20% over last season.

Although the nets are accounting for less and less of the total TV audience, they still represent the largest mass-market media buys for advertisers. The array of television alternatives keeps on growing all the time, of course; but the number of eyeballs per hour in front of the set remains relatively constant. And advertisers can still catch more of them via the broadcast networks than anywhere else.

Add to that an increasing array of new products that depend on heavy advertising expenditures-health and beauty aids, cars and telecommunications are examples-and a seller's market emerges, as it did this spring.

What's more, it appears that more marketers are shifting dollars into advertising to protect and bolster their brands. That helps explain why even the fledgling broadcast networks are getting ad dollars to help them through their early struggles.

But industry observers say all this is a temporary blessing, and that now is the time to prepare for the future. We wholeheartedly agree.

Let's regard what we are seeing today as part of a two-year "window." This year, as TV's booming upfront showed, advertisers are loosening the purse strings, and next year there's the Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 1996 national elections (with assurances the administration will do its darnedest to keep the economy propped up at least until November).

Meanwhile, Congress is pushing to act this summer on a bill that rewrites the nation's communications laws, deregulating many of the current constraints on media ownership in ways that can eventually remake the media company landscape. So all media owners should realize that today's ad resurgence doesn't signal a "return" to anything. Smart media companies should use this two-year window to prepare for a far different competitive situation by 1997.

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