NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The TV networks are busy putting their best face forward at this week's upfront presentations, trying to convince advertisers that their new schedules are stacked with programs only a fool wouldn't buy. But before the presentations began, Ad Age made the rounds among some prominent media buyers for their takes on the networks' pitches, most interesting shows, the appeal of online video and "event TV."
Here, Chris Boothe, president and chief operating officer at Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA, explains why networks shouldn't insist on "unreasonable" price increases.
Ad Age: What kinds of video programming are advertisers sorely in need of, and why?
Mr. Boothe: While advertisers have increasingly more media to connect with consumers, TV remains a vehicle that provides mass reach and the ability to create "events" that allow consumers to connect on multiple platforms in real time. Also, it's important to note that advertisers are looking for more comedies. Comedies are the hardest nut to crack but when they are, they generally deliver strong ratings and do well in re-airings.
Ad Age: Are there shows you've heard about that you really want to make it to air?
Mr. Boothe: Of course the shows I want to make it to air are those with strong potential for audience delivery, and one way to guarantee that is to go with what you know. That said, an interesting trend we've seen this development season is big TV producers that come back to TV with new projects that stick to the genre that made them successful. For example, Shonda Rhimes from "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" has the medical-themed "Off the Map" on ABC. Also, David E. Kelley from "The Practice," "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal" has the legal-themed "Kindreds" on NBC. A lot of networks have been giving early pickups this week and it is no surprise that shows with big name producers behind them are being picked up -- for example, J.J. Abrams' "Undercovers" and Jerry Bruckheimer's "Chase" on NBC, and Shawn Ryan's cop-themed ride along on Fox.
Ad Age: How sure are you when you identify a program you want to be associated with that it will be a hit? What's the risk to a brand if the show tanks or is just middling?
Mr. Boothe: The process of the upfront creates a bigger upside to taking risks on new programming than there is downside. There are certainly many new shows that don't do so well -- it's a part of the network television business, or any business for that matter. If we purchase upfront units in a show that ends up getting canceled, we work with the networks to adjust that inventory in a way that is appropriate for the client. On the flip side, if you affiliate yourself with a show that hits big, like "Glee" last season, you are able to reap the reward in engagement, and have built-in incumbencies for season two.
Ad Age: How much earlier than in upfronts past are you starting to talk about product/brand integration or devising "hybrid" TV spots that use your product/name as well as the TV property you're sponsoring?
Mr. Boothe: Content is developed 365 days a year by programmers and consumers. Our position at Starcom is that we mine the marketplace on a year-round basis. While the upfront is a pivotal time for TV-centric opportunities, conversations around partnerships happen as appealing and brand-relevant content enters the development pipeline. For the types of work we want to produce for our clients, we work very upstream so we can truly leverage the abilities to create a partnership, including leveraging co-marketing opportunities and the ability to drive to retail and call to action. If you haven't been having these conversations and you've been waiting until now, you've been missing out on numerous opportunities.
Ad Age: When is online video more appropriate than traditional TV, and vice versa?
Mr. Boothe: I wouldn't say the proposition is an either/or scenario. Increasingly, viewers are seeking out content on different video platforms, so we are approaching video holistically and utilizing the video platforms that attract our key consumers.
At Starcom, we no longer think about TV in a silo; it's simply not enough to have separate TV, ambient, online, mobile and cinema strategies -- they must work in concert. The landscape requires that we start with the consumer's video viewing habits and then plan based on the touch points that will reach them at the most advantageous time.
We no longer look simply at a platform's reach and CPM, but also look at factors including time spent and the ability to drive key brand metrics to determine the right media mix. As a strategic solutions provider, agencies need to apply the learnings and best practices from one medium to another. They should work in tandem, not against each other. In the future, we believe deals will become platform-neutral, meaning that we give the consumer the ability to determine which platform they choose to access content and then make sure our ad message follows the content in a way that is optimized for the platform. Deals will be less about delivering impressions on a specific platform, but will be more about delivering on specific business objectives, regardless of the platform.
Ad Age: What's your take on how the scatter market will play out in the fall and winter?
Mr. Boothe: Much depends on how the upfront process plays out this summer. If all parties are reasonable, we will negotiate deals that are moderate and allow for fall and winter scatter to be priced appropriately over upfront bases. If networks try to charge unreasonable premiums in the upfront and hold for scatter, we will move that money elsewhere -- which could be a real risk for them in scatter. We do not believe that the 2010-2011 scatter marketplace will play out like 2009-2010.
Ad Age: Top sports and even some scripted "events" are getting top dollar. Are these TV moments worth the price, and why?
Mr. Boothe: This issue is becoming more and more dependent on each individual brand's specific objectives. Our teams must determine what role the most highly rated and discussed television programs play in a client's marketing mix, and from there, they can determine if the higher price is justified.