NBC's Zucker May Nix Upfront Party

Others Also Consider Canceling the Show -- or at Least Toning It Down

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- To put on a show or not to put on a show? For the big broadcast networks, that is the question.
NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker
NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has gained notice in recent days for press reports that quote him suggesting that NBC is mulling the end of its lavish upfront presentation to advertisers and the media. Instead, the thinking goes, it would be better to meet with advertisers in smaller groups and eschew the costly spectacle.

"I think we are all reassessing," Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS Corp., told Advertising Age after a company press conference today. While upfront ad sales will take place in some form, he said, "how big the show will be -- that's the question."

Fox declined to comment on its plans for the upfront, as did CW. An ABC spokeswoman said Mike Shaw, who heads the Walt Disney Co. network's ad sales, was not available for comment.

Why wind down
There are many reasons to wind down the lavish upfront presentations networks put on year after year. They are costly; they speak broadly to marketers who want to devise very specific plans; and they are out of sync with the times, when advertisers are showing more interest in spending flexibly rather than plunking down millions of dollars in May for programming that runs in the fall.

TV networks have other issues, too. The ongoing writers strike threatens to squeeze dry the development of scripted programs for next year. Why hold an upfront when there's little to sing and dance about? Add to the mix ratings erosion and DVR penetration, and networks seem to have less to crow about -- although when their programs hit, they reach more people in one fell swoop than any other ad medium can.

Advertisers and media buyers have been subtly pushing for a new buying model for network TV. And Mr. Zucker and his new entertainment chief, Ben Silverman, already are rethinking how they order pilots and find new shows to produce. Should the writers strike conclude by mid- to late February, things may not change this year. But if the strike continues and forces a scrapping of the vaunted Oscars, a new system for doing ad business on network TV could become a necessity.
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