CBS Going Back to Carnegie Hall

Upfront Presentation Back on for ABC, Too

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NEW YORK ( -- To have an upfront presentation or not to have an upfront presentation? With the recently settled writers strike crippling program development and accelerating ratings erosion, it's a question broadcast networks have dithered about for weeks. Why meet with advertisers, after all, when it's getting harder to amass audiences for them and next fall's programming slate may have a few holes in it?
David Caruso and Nina Tassler at last year's CBS upfront presentation.
David Caruso and Nina Tassler at last year's CBS upfront presentation. Credit: John Filo/CBS

Moving forward
The networks, however, have begun to move forward. CBS intends to hold an upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall on May 14. The Tiffany network is known for having some of the biggest and most brash upfront presentations, with past events including cameos from the cast of the Broadway show "Jersey Boys" and rock band The Who. The network said details of the presentation would be unveiled later.

Walt Disney's ABC will hold an upfront meeting May 13, said Mike Shaw, the network's president-sales. Expectations are that the event will involve "less hoopla" and focus on more-granular issues, he said, including how the commercial ratings advertisers and TV networks agreed to last year are progressing. ABC is bringing back a lot of its current schedule for next fall, Mr. Shaw said, so it's likely that advertisers already will be familiar with a lot of what the network has to offer, allowing discussions to move to more-serious topics.

Networks meet with advertisers constantly, not just at the big May upfront events. But the May presentations get the most attention -- exactly because their glamour quotients have risen exponentially in recent years. Whether these events are appropriate as more advertisers express a desire to spend in keeping with their business plans and as networks launch more programs in the spring and summer has become a matter of ongoing debate.

Fanning the flames
NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has fanned the flames somewhat, saying in late January at the annual meeting of the National Association of Television Program Executives that the upfront presentation in its current form "is a vestige of the last decade."

"As you all know, when we talk about the upfront, we mean two things. One is the glitzy presentation we do every year at Radio City Music Hall. The other is the way we sell our advertising inventory," Mr. Zucker said in prepared remarks. "Let me be clear: The way we sell that inventory, in an upfront selling period, is not going to change. The upfronts were first established for automakers to lock up commercial time back in the 1950s. That business of the business remains the same. But do we really need the big show in order to do that? We are not so sure anymore." Instead, he said, the network could meet with smaller groups of advertisers.

An NBC spokeswoman said, "Changes will be made to this year's upfront. Plans are under way, and we'll have an announcement shortly." A person familiar with the situation said NBC is looking at a "new and creative approach" to the event. An announcement could come as early as next week, the executive said.

Other networks seem ready to go forward with some sort of presentation. During a recent conference call with investors, News Corp. President Peter Chernin said Fox would "not abandon" the upfront selling process. A Fox spokeswoman couldn't immediately comment on the network's upfront plans. CW has booked a place for a New York presentation, according to a person familiar with the situation, and could scale its event accordingly. A CW spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
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