The upfront may fuel the TV business, but it doesn't do a lot to interest the average TV viewer.
Try talking about the upfront -- the annual bazaar in which TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming fall season -- to the average couch-potato, and he or she is likely to think you're talking about some conversational stance that demands bold directness. Yet NBC Universal's Bravo intends to use the upfront as a promotional tool to make those same tube-staring taters feel better about watching the network.
On March 30, Bravo will host simultaneous upfront events for buyers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, all of which will be attended by the network's various celebrities. Bravo will in turn show scenes from the upfront events live during its broadcast of the finale of "Top Chef All-Stars," using the promo time that aims to keep consumers around during commercial breaks.
Bravo breathlessly says -- with a lot of hype, mind you -- that "this unprecedented initiative will -- for the very first time -- allow home viewers a glimpse into this 'invitation only' advertising soiree," which will appear on screen during the network's promo time.
Except viewers won't hear any talk about CPMs or ad packages, or be forced to encounter any of the same 15 jokes that TV executives routinely use when speaking to advertisers at these annual events. "For the consumer at home, I don't think they need to know what the 'upfront' is," Frances Berwick, Bravo Media's president, said in an interview. "What they'll experience will be a presence at a 'Top Chef' finale party."
Bravo may be on to something. Upfront parties and presentations run networks tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope and scale. Shindigs run the gamut from intimate meals with TV-network executives (Hallmark Channel) to a full-blown concert by Kid Rock (TruTV) to a broad bazaar-like display that takes up most of the famous ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center (NBC Universal).
Why not turn the event into a piece of entertainment and send it out over the network to tantalize the average viewer in promo time? That turns the upfront into the very thing it's designed to be -- an outreach to Madison Avenue that in turn brings ad dollars to the network. The trick, we guess, is simply to let viewers see celebrities and not the financial palaver between ad-sales honchos and media-buying execs.
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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.