Sellers: Media companies look for opportunity

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A panel of media sellers took the stage at AdWatch right after Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR unveiled a forecast showing that U.S. ad spending will go up-2.5%-rather than down. Yet the overall tenor of the sellers wasn't exactly celebratory.

That's not surprising: Executives from consumer magazines, national newspapers and cable TV accounted for three of the four panel members, and CMR projects those categories will see 2002 ad declines of 2.8%, 1.7% and 0.3%, respectively. The fourth member of the panel? Ailing America Online.

Mark Rosenthal, president-chief operating officer of Viacom's MTV Networks, said the cable upfront has reached a partial stalemate because general entertainment cable networks desperately want price increases while buyers want to recoup some of the money they agreed to pay in the broadcast upfront. But he contended cable networks such as youth-skewing MTV Networks are "red hot" in the cable upfront, the period when ad time is sold in advance of the TV season.

Mr. Rosenthal suggested that instead of a selling period started by broadcast and followed by cable and syndication, the upfront be divided into demographic marketplaces: for example, a 12- to 24-year-old category in which cable networks such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network would compete with some broadcast properties.

Such upfronts might favor Mr. Rosenthal's Viacom outlets, which offer clearly defined targets.

Daniel Brewster, president-CEO of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing, said the magazine industry was still recovering from the recent recession and other pitfalls. "Right now, we're under tremendous margin pressure," he said, pointing to increasing postal rates and the escalating costs of acquiring subscribers. Mr. Brewster also said the business' single-copy distribution channel is flawed, as distributors continue to lose money. "I predict before the end of the year you'll see a new distribution channel for magazines," he said.

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America Online Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis, whose unit has been pilloried as the laggard within AOL Time Warner, said the division will look to capture additional dollars from marketers beyond ad budgets. The targets are budgets for customer relationship marketing, coupons and regional and local marketing.

Janet Robinson, senior VP of newspaper operations for The New York Times Co. and president and general manager of The New York Times, said retail is "starting to come back" for newspapers, as was telecommunications at national newspapers, but that technology and financial services were not.

She hinted at how her company is looking to Boston for growth. After purchasing The Boston Globe, the company acquired a stake in Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox and a regional sports network.

She said the acquisitions will help the company put together cross-platform ad deals that can include promotions on, sponsored events at Red Sox stadium Fenway Park and ads on the cable channel.

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