Cable upfront offers glimpse of buying future

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Want to know how TV will be bought and sold in the future? Take a look at a trio of this year's cable network upfront deals that go beyond the dated payment-by-total-eyeballs methods to measure whether viewers are engaged and can recall the ads.

The deals could be the start of a new TV buying and selling model-one based on qualitative as well as ratings guarantees. The deal between media buying agency MediaVest and The Weather Channel examines how programming influences brand recall. Carat USA and Court TV's deal adds a viewer-attentiveness guarantee based on proprietary Carat research. Earlier, Starcom USA took Court TV up on a similar "viewer engagement guarantee."

"This is where the business is going," said Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast, Carat, adding that the Court TV experiment is the one he's most excited to bring to clients. "People say the upfront hasn't changed but now we're trying on both the buying and selling side. We have a responsibility to give clients heightened accountability."


Such deals, said Donna Speciale, who heads MediaVest's national buying team, are built on the premise that "not all rating points are created equal. ... We've been asking, `In what environment do consumers recall and retain our marketing message?"'

What's more, these kinds of deals give TV more fuel as it staves off competition from the Web. "The Internet has instant, built-in accountability in the sense that you can click on it and count it," said Court TV's Ad Sales Chief Charlie Collier. "TV has other benefits, but now we're also trying to increase that [accountability]."

The package MediaVest negotiated with Landmark Communications' Weather Channel includes a research project, underwritten by the network, to answer the question of recall and, said Jim Kite, MediaVest's exec VP-director of insights, research and accountability, "move from hypothesis to evidence." The deal also guarantees Weather Channel's ad recall will be higher than the industry norm; a failure to do so will result in make-goods.

The research will evaluate ad recall among cable networks across the board-both niche and broad-based-to see who floats to the top. Then, said Paul Iaffaldano, exec VP-general manager at Weather Channel, it will develop diagnostics to help the partners understand why. Ms. Speciale will use the tool to help determine which networks get on her clients' schedules.

Across town, Carat is the second media agency to take up Court TV's guarantee of a more attentive audience, which, in theory, leads to greater ad exposure. The network will use a proprietary Carat research tool, Foretell, to measure viewer involvement.

This is the second such qualitative-guarantee Court TV has offered an agency, said Mr. Collier, and they will all be different-a product of each agency's own tools and metrics. While he expects to do more this year, the number is finite. "There's a partnership required," he said, noting their extra backend work and exposure to risk. And to be sure, he said, "This is not about pure commercial ratings but about looking at exposure and involvement and any other metric that's important to a client."

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