Why Fox Couldn't Care Less About the Upfront

Q&A: Nesvig Says Market Is Strong, Solutions to Ad Skipping Are in the Works

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Jon Nesvig will be talking about a lot of new things at next week's upfront presentation: an expanded broadband player and the still-unnamed online video partnership with NBC are just two examples. But a solution to DVR ad skipping problems will not be on the list.
Jon Nesvig, Fox sales chief
Jon Nesvig, Fox sales chief

The Fox sales chief got the industry buzzing at the end of April when he revealed he's got a patent filing for proprietary software that would allow advertisers to refresh time-sensitive ads on digital playback as a way to prevent ad skipping. Since the technology is still in development, Mr. Nesvig won't quite be ready to talk TiVo by his network's May 18 presentation.

"It's more for the future if it gets up and running over the course of the season," he said.

Nevertheless, Fox is coming off its third-straight banner year, thanks to the so-called January effect from "American Idol" and "24" that allows it to claim the 18- to 49-year-old crown. Last year's upfront was a network best for Fox, which closed the season with $1.8 billion. Mr. Nesvig has also been writing more scatter business than in any previous year.

Mr. Nesvig recently spoke with Ad Age about Fox's fall plans, his take on commercial ratings and why he couldn't care less about who sits out this year's upfront.

MediaWorks: Last month Fox was the first broadcast network to do sponsor-free programming during commercial breaks with the "Oleg the cab driver" spots. What have you learned from that experiment?

Jon Nesvig: We're still waiting for more detail on some of the proprietary research that we were doing. The initial cut on the minute-by-minute data was that we couldn't see anything that was particularly significant. But the interesting thing for us was the amount of web traffic on Fox.com for people going to find more about Oleg. On some evenings, we were getting over 100,000 hits a night. So obviously there's some interest out there, and we will continue to experiment -- whether it's with content or with different formats.

MediaWorks: One of the things you guys have plugged a lot is the ratings success of the "January effect" from launching "American Idol" and "24" midseason. Does that help or hurt you when it comes to upfront deals for the fall?

Mr. Nesvig: "Idol" and "24" certainly have a big impact on our ratings. But "Idol" is a sell particularly with the main sponsors in and of itself. We are very focused on improving our fall numbers this year because of the new baseball contract we will have signed, with fewer baseball pre-emptions in prime time than we had in previous years. We expect to have a stronger schedule in the fall, things like "House" and "Prison Break" and "[Are You Smarter Than a] Fifth Grader" are much stronger and returning to the schedule. Going into the fall, I've seen a few pilots already that are pretty encouraging.

MediaWorks: As we get into a more granular commercial-ratings mind-set this year, what role will the "A" positions in commercial pods play for you? Do you have any intention of selling those individually?

Mr. Nesvig: We can't sell positioning. Then you basically have to sell every pod on a pod-by-pod basis, and you can't operate on a day-to-day basis like that. There's just too many things going on to sell like that. There are only two shows I know that are like that -- the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards -- where people buy position by position.

MediaWorks: P&G announced last week its intention to boost ad spend this year, with more focus on "nonmeasured media." Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, chose to sit out last year's upfront, as did Coke. Are you concerned more of the big guys might back out, or does it even matter when you're posting record scatter numbers?

Mr. Nesvig: We don't get paid until the advertising runs anyway, so whether it's upfront or scatter, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to us. We had the largest upfront in our history last year, already written more dollars in scatter with four or five months remaining in scatter. We're looking at a very strong market, but the timing of the market, other than the stories you guys write, really doesn't make a whole lot of difference to us.
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