Marketers Add to Their TV Upfront Buys

Final Bargaining Winds Up Week Before Season Kicks Off

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NEW YORK ( -- This year's late, late upfront is giving the TV ad market a bit of an unexpected bounce, with media buyers reporting that clients are adding to their upfront buys. Marketers with better visibility on their 2007 plans are adding dollars, according to a handful of agency executives, who cite the surprisingly strong network programming roster as one reason for the added commitments.
Strong programs such as the CBS show 'Shark,' starring James Woods, have drawn the interest and additional upfront dollars of marketers.
Strong programs such as the CBS show 'Shark,' starring James Woods, have drawn the interest and additional upfront dollars of marketers.

Unexpected boost
While no one could quantify exactly how many ad dollars might be in the market, the broadcast networks no doubt welcome the unexpected boost. The broadcast business struggled with a tough ad-selling environment in May -- known as the upfront -- and made select deals at pricing that was flat compared to last year's levels in an attempt to grab share. Two broadcast-network sales chiefs confirmed the influx of additional upfront money but said it isn't unusual given the flexibility marketers have over their ad commitments.

Timing or money?
One agency executive said his clients were increasing available dollars, while another said: "The additional dollars are more an issue of the timing of the upfront. It just isn't good for marketing calendars. Some of our clients are asking, 'Why are you making me decide in May?'"

Another executive said there had been some dickering over precisely when the upfront would wind up and when scatter rates -- which are traditionally higher -- would begin. The point might be moot since fourth-quarter scatter pricing is the same or similar to upfront levels, according to buyers.

One media-agency executive explained that the late upfront pushed order approvals from advertisers into September and that some fourth-quarter buying was being done under the auspices of the broader deals.

Getting clients' approval
In the next few weeks, agencies will present their fall and midseason buys to clients for approval, then go to broadcast networks to confirm their orders and get final details on pricing. Among the new shows buyers expect to be most expensive are ABC's "Brothers & Sisters," the Calista Flockhart family drama airing after "Desperate Housewives" on Sundays at 10 p.m., and "Shark," the CBS legal drama starring James Woods. "Shark" airs after "CSI" on Thursdays at 10 p.m.

The fourth-quarter broadcast market appears fairly open, though sponsorship opportunities are now limited. Early morning time periods are tight because of demand, but so is evening news, which according to one buyer has been underdelivering ratings. Sports programming sold well again, and buyers are watching closely to see how NBC's new NFL programming performs.

A majority of media buyers said even though News Corp.'s new entry, My Network TV, is off the ground, they'll remain on the sidelines to see how the dramas the network has programmed play out. One buyer said he was trying to evaluate whether it was "too explicit" for his clients. The first episode of "Desire" showed a near-naked woman in a bathroom holding her dress against her chest.

CBS reassuring 'Survivor' advertisers
Separately, agencies said CBS was doing everything it could to reassure advertisers that the latest incarnation of "Survivor" offered no reason for a withdrawal of ad dollars. Two agencies said advertisers were concerned about the number of big-name marketers pulling out, and that CBS was willing to screen the pilot to reassure clients it won't be as controversial as reports have suggested. The reality series is pitting teams against one another based on race.

"You get big-name, marquee clients [dropping out], and lot of guys behind them get concerned -- there's a ripple," one buyer said. Another agency executive said his clients were remaining in the show and had no issue with it.
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