Upfront 07

Media Buyers Play Soap Stars for a Day

Road to the Upfront: SoapNet

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The Date: Feb. 15, 2007
The Venue: Venue, 16 W. 22 St., New York
Key Execs: Deborah Blackwell, exec VP-general manager, SoapNet; Heidi Lobel, exec VP-sales, ABC Daytime; Mike Shaw, president-sales and marketing, ABC Television; Geri Wang, senior VP-primetime sales, ABC Television
The Food: You name it, they had it: a seemingly endless supply of sushi, two penne pastas, three choices of prime meats and an open bar to keep everyone well-lubricated and alert throughout the party's four-hour duration.
The Swag: A full-service candy stash for guests to pick and choose from on their way out, though gift bags were spotted in the hands of a few upon departure as well.
The Crowd: Susan Lucci, Cameron Mathison and a few other soap stars showed up early on to pose for photos with fans. Otherwise, the smattering of SoapNet execs and media buyers were easy to spot amid the predominantly 25-and-under Chelsea crowd.
The Ratings Game: Now in nearly 60 million homes (up from 48 million last year), SoapNet is starting to forge an identity outside its ABC daytime foundation. Recent acquisitions such as "90210," "One Tree Hill" and "The O.C." are helping them corner the market on all-things serialized drama for women 18-49, with whom they rank 10th in basic cable with a .5 prime-time rating. This summer sees the network's first entrance into original programming with "General Hospital: Night Shift," which they just picked up for 13 weekly one-hour episodes.
Buyer's Verdict: Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Group M, said many of his clients have been with SoapNet since its inception and have stuck around due to the network's proven ability to lure fans of the noon-centric genre to all dayparts. "The opportunity to basically replay those shows on a cable network is helping them catch a new audience. They've really diversified themselves and have a relatively successful endurance in ratings."


It's only halfway through February, but the upfront hoopla has begun. SoapNet had the spotlights out for its upfront bash at Chelsea hotspot Venue, where ABC daytime stars such as Susan Lucci and Cameron Mathison roamed freely among the junior account execs and senior media buyers who stuck out like parents at a Cheetah Girls concert.

Since the ABC cable net kept the free booze and sushi flowing from the get-go, it was hard for Deborah Blackwell, exec VP for SoapNet, to announce her network's latest programming acquisitions ("The O.C," "One Tree Hill" and the new "General Hospital: Night Shift") or the cheeky sequel to the channel's in-house upfront soap, "A Good Buy to Remember." This year's episode, "One Good Buy Deserves Another," featured a host of prominent media buyers camping it up in a variety of roles: The mock soap featured a judge (Larry Blasius of Magna Global), an Italian wiseguy (Group M's Rino Scanzoni) and opposing attorneys with a romantic past (MindShare's Jason Maltby and Shari Cohen).

The concept of involving buyers in specialized upfront programming is hardly new (Mr. Scanzoni alone has starred in a "Pimp My Office" video for MTV and a "Sopranos" parody for A&E), but it's a hard feat to pull off from a scheduling standpoint. "We're very sensitive to the fact that buyers have cable networks knocking on their doors all the time," said Ms. Lobel, who reprised her role in "Good Buy" as Mike Shaw's illegitimate daughter this year. "There's so much pressure and time's so limited, but we wanted to give buyers something fun in the middle of the winter doldrums that wouldn't be a huge demand on their time."

The filming also makes for a good, convivial break from business as usual for the close-knit buying community. "It's always good to catch up," Mr. Scanzoni said from the Chelsea set of "One Good Buy" last month. "We also realize we better keep our day jobs."

Here's a list of media buyers you can see in the SoapNet video, "Good Buy": Jeni Gordineer, group director, OMD; Shari Cohen, president, co-executive director, national television, Mindshare; Jason Maltby, president, co-executive director, national television, Mindshare; Larry Blasius, exec VP-director of broadcast negotiations, Magna Global; Kris Magel, senior VP-account director, Zenith USA; Chris Meringolo, director-media and PR, Schering-Plough; Bill Holba, VP, Initiative Media; John Miles, director investments, MediaCom U.S.; and Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer,Group M.
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