Upfront 07

A Peek at TV Networks' Fall Schedules and Plans

Development Meetings for ABC, Fox, NBC, CW

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- TV ad buyers cruised the Hollywood back lots this week casting an eye over TV's equivalent of spring training. The March development meetings -- which CBS sits out altogether and ABC says it hates doing -- gives ad buyers a sense of who's bringing what come May upfront time.
Kate Walsh stars in a 'Grey's Anatomy' spinoff that begins airing in May on ABC.
Kate Walsh stars in a 'Grey's Anatomy' spinoff that begins airing in May on ABC. Credit: ABC

Focus on ad offerings
This year there's less buzz about the shows and more focus on what the ad teams will have to offer. ABC captured the imagination of some media buyers, demonstrating ways it plans to keep viewers engaged through commercial breaks.

"One of the things that stood out is ABC's talking about more seamlessly transitioning" between the programs and the ads, said Larry Blasius, Magna Global's exec VP-director negotiations.

According to those present, ABC demonstrated a variety of ways advertisers could be inserted into shows. One example showed a character from "Ugly Betty" turning a magazine page to show the first advertiser in the break, while another had the fictional family from "According to Jim" reacting in various ways to a promotion for a movie. ABC also suggested it could show a character watching an high-definition TV screen that then shows a commercial for an advertiser.

Ready to tackle DVR
Mike Shaw, ABC's president-sales and marketing, also discussed commercial ratings. He said the network was ready to work on multiple ways of slicing the DVR audience.

"What I found most interesting is that [the networks] are looking for a more collaborative approach to resolving the commercial-ratings issue," said Jason Kanefsky, MPG's senior VP-group account director, national broadcast.

Others who attended said Mr. Shaw also told agencies to call on cable operators such as Cablevision and Comcast and suggest they operate video-on-demand services that do not allow subscribers to fast forward through the ads. Time Warner Cable already has such a service, called "Start Over."

ABC announced a huge development slate that includes 14 dramas and 16 comedies -- including a new Oprah Winfrey project called "The Big Give," which involves cash recipients "paying it forward" and a "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff starring Kate Walsh that will first air in May. Another notable addition is "Cashmere Mafia," from "Sex and the City" writer Darren Star. ABC is committed to bringing back 14 shows from last season.

CBS has told advertisers it is open to individual meetings to talk through its development slate.

NBC pushes measurement
NBC, meanwhile, decided to put the emphasis on measurement, rolling out research President Alan Wurtzel to discuss some new findings about how viewers hop between the network and NBC.com. Mr. Wurtzel said 11% of NBC's sample watched "Heroes" both online and on TV. A full 60% of those watching online watched within 24 hours of the original broadcast. The network is planning to push new "TAM," or total audience measurement statistics, to agencies on a monthly basis.

"Mike Pilot [NBC president-ad sales] said we're prepared to use research to demonstrate proof of value. There is meaningful return," Mr. Wurtzel told Advertising Age yesterday. "Nielsen is still the gold standard in TV but the fact is this is about everything else and we are doing business now." Nielsen has its own 360-degree measurement plans that are still in the planning stages.

Peter Liguori, president-entertainment at Fox, talked about his network's problematic fourth quarter, promising to right the ship this fall. Fewer baseball games should help the network ensure better program flow, Fox executives believe.

'Not satisfied'
"We're working hard to build a stronger fourth quarter because ... let's face it ... we want to do much better than we have," Mr. Liguori said. "I'm not satisfied. ... No one at the network is satisfied. And we're not going to stop until we can offer you a consistent and dependable schedule 52 weeks a year ... and that includes the fourth quarter."

At the CW, Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff talked about the expansion of the popular content wraps and the network's hopes to move out of merger mode and into defining what the network is all about.

"It's like spring training, everyone looks good," said Magna Global's Mr. Blasius. "ABC continues to seem like they're on a roll, NBC is making strides, Fox recognizes it has a problem to fix in fourth quarter while the CW is trying to be competitive."

As for digital opportunities, MPG's Mr. Kanefsky said the word "YouTube" wasn't uttered by anyone and that advertisers are now focused on broadband opportunities.
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