Digital Buyers Push Into TV Upfront Fray

Networks and New Media Players Jockey for Multimedia Budgets

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NEW YORK ( -- If the headline fight in the upfront is between buyer and seller, this year there will be a new undercard that will pit TV buyers against their new-media counterparts.

As ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "The Office" move from the linear network and onto Web and wireless platforms, talk of prime time is being replaced by the buzzword du jour: video.

With TV budgets under pressure, broadcast and cable owners are making a play for the ever-increasing pool of dollars that advertisers have allocated to digital media, by pushing the fact that their programming is now available in a variety of new media formats. As ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "The Office" move from the linear network and onto Web and wireless platforms, talk of prime time is being replaced by the buzzword du jour: video.

Multimedia battleground
That will turn the coming upfront into a multimedia marketplace and is already pitting TV buyers against digital buyers, as they battle over whether some portion of digital budgets should be pooled with upfront budgets, and who should oversee buys if so. In some cases this creates rivalries where two buyers within the same agency, but different departments, will duke it out. In other cases it's TV buying agency vs. a completely separate digital agency.

"It is a jump ball at a lot of agencies," said Tim Hanlon, senior VP-ventures at Denuo, the newly formed media-futures practice at Publicis Groupe. "There is a tension that has been pronounced for some time, but it is an interim issue, not a zero-sum game. ... At the very least, you have to redefine what TV is. It's much more amorphously described as video."

Even marketers looking to follow the consumer as they log on, download and order up, are scratching their heads about how best to execute the buy. Debbie Myers, VP-media and entertainment at Taco Bell, believes the challenge for this year's upfront will be that "online is not housed in the buying part of the agency." But sometimes it is. Kaki Hinton, VP-ad services, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, said her digital budget is treated and planned "as TV."

Who's buying what at agencies
In other cases it's even harder to define where it is housed. "Agencies are fighting over who buys interactive and video on demand," one sales-side executive said. "Media agencies don't want to become just the linear buyers. Their mantra is to tie it into the linear business and say we are one-stop shopping." As a result, sales-side executives say they are increasingly talking directly to marketers and focusing more on the planners to find out how much of TV budgets are headed into digital offshoots.

Even on the network side, marketers are wrestling with who sells what. At ABC, Mike Shaw, president-sales, oversees's offering of show downloads to clients. At CBS, there's a separate digital-ad-sales group that moved ahead of the network in selling online coverage of March Madness basketball.

Recognizing that the TV universe is mutating, the Cable Advertising Bureau last week launched its upfront strategy, dubbed "One TV World." The idea is that cable sells itself not just as TV channels, but as video providers across multiple platforms.

Sean Cunningham, CAB's president-CEO, said two-thirds of his calls were to planning groups, which have a greater purview over the media landscape. "Upfront history is marked by a continued evolution. ... We can show you how to get more with the same or similar budget -- ratchet up cable and you can have free money to learn about video," he said. Mr. Cunningham added that agencies are requesting much more data on video on demand performance and that for the first time, "there is a first phase of data available."

Larry Novenstern, who recently joined Optimedia from Deutsch, said his new title is exec VP-director of national electronic media, to reflect his wider responsibilities. Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast buying at Carat, expects his title to change.

"Our job functions are changing," he said. "We are not only taking meeting with the A&Es and TBSs of the world; we're taking meetings with the Yahoos and MSNs."

It looks like, for the most part, these video-media explorations are being taken out of the TV pot, rather than separate digital budgets. "There's been a slow migration of broadcast dollars into video alternatives that will continue," said Mr. Donchin.

"The prize of the skill set will be data-centric analysts; traditional TV buyers don't have that, but online types don't have the same sophistication when it comes to judging content," Mr. Hanlon said. "There's a marriage of two disciplines: a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll."

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Abbey Klaassen and Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.

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