Hey, TV Networks, It's About More Than CPM

Q&A: OMD Broadcast Buyer Chris Geraci on What Makes Him Want to Tear Out His Hair

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There's a new face behind national TV buying at Omnicom Group's OMD, the firm that works for PepsiCo, Apple and other glitzy advertisers. Chris Geraci, an Omnicom veteran, was named March 14 to replace Debbie Richman, who has taken over the chief ad-sales role at the Lifetime cable channel.
Chris Geraci
Chris Geraci

Mr. Geraci, who has worked at the ad holding company for more than 20 years, becomes OMD's managing director of national broadcast investment at a fascinating moment. Not only is the annual upfront just a few weeks away, but the TV business is in the midst of massive flux, with many of the big networks trying to find ways to distribute their programs via digital means, not just on the living-room screen.

Mr. Geraci spoke with MediaWorks about his predictions for the upfront market and some of the complexities that are bound to stir once it gets going.

MediaWorks: This year's upfront marketplace is tough to figure out. On the one hand, prime-time audiences have been eroding. On the other, declining ratings mean marketers need to buy more ad time to reach the same number of viewers they did one, two or five years ago. In broad strokes, how do you think things will play out?

Chris Geraci: On the surface, one could say those are the components of an inflationary marketplace. I'd like to think that it's a bit more complex. ... The ratings are down ... because of a few factors. The writers strike didn't help, [but] we saw ratings reductions prior to that. The commercial-ratings situation has also muddied the buy -- probably more of a factor in specific dayparts and in cable than it is in broadcast-network prime time, where it hasn't impacted things any differently than we expected, so that's a good thing.

I don't want to engage in a 'Hey, the scatter market is up, so the upfront is going to be exploding.' ... If I hear one more person from the sales side making that comment as if it's a fait accompli, I think I'll just tear my hair out -- and I still have some hair.

The bottom line is: What frustrates me more than anything is when our partners in all this, the media owners, don't actually get why our clients advertise. They don't really understand the value of what they provide and what we are trying to accomplish, and this is to sell more product. All of that is lost in the shuffle in the debate about price and the marketplace and the inflationary factors and all of that. It has become kind of disturbing. There is a lot of stuff out there right now that could impact demand in a significant way.

Everybody has benefited from this steady demand ... [but] one of the things that has to be considered are all the other expenses that all of the advertisers are going through now. They have their raw materials. There are a lot of those things the advertisers are worrying about other than what the cost per thousand is.

MediaWorks: How much detail do you think the networks will be able to offer about their coming fall schedules? The writers strike really crimped their ability to whip up new shows. Will this fall look a lot like last fall? And how fast do you expect to see new stuff on the prime-time grid?

Mr. Geraci: Look, I have a fairly optimistic expectation that the networks will be able to launch the season the way they want to launch it. ... We've got the potential to know more about this upcoming fall season almost than we would in a typical year simply because of the number of renewals. Maybe programming is more of a known quantity because of the number of renewals. Beyond that, I've heard reported that things are humming out there. It's not a typical development season, but that doesn't mean they're not looking at new stuff right now.

MediaWorks: Thanks to viewing online and watching shows on mobile devices, buying TV ad time has changed. How prepared is your group to start putting together multimedia ad packages that include TV ad time and other marketing ideas?

Mr. Geraci: We've been doing that for years, and I think we're pretty darn good at it. ... We haven't forced our digital expertise, if you will, into the upfront marketplace or digital buyers or digital clients into a TV scenario. Certainly there are places where the combined leverage makes sense. We do a lot of business with certain media owners both online and offline, and those are the places where we will begin the negotiation together. MTV Networks is an example where we've had a fair amount of press. ...

The question is more about the metrics than anything else, and how do you get these two worlds to be a little bit more interchangeable than they are now. The measures that people are all thinking about right now are not very much far down the road ... some metrics that will allow us as buyers of media to really compare the two platforms and have money float easily between them.

MediaWorks: What's your favorite TV show?

Mr. Geraci: Of all time? "The X-Files." ... Right now, "Lost" is my favorite show. I think this season so far has exceeded expectations.
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