NUDG comes to naught after first and only meeting

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It appears the industry is in for more late nights spent haggling over cold pizza. Participants at last week's historic meeting between TV networks, media agencies and clients to discuss changes to the broadcast TV's upfront negotiation process came away disappointed more was not achieved.

The event, largely regarded as a wash-out, ended with no consensus reached about how to improve the current process. A second follow up meeting was canceled.

The meeting, the first of its kind, titled the Network Upfront Discussion Group (NUDG) was convened by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The discussion follows the March release of an ANA survey demonstrating that 56.6% of marketers are dissatisfied with the process while 47% believe that current network pricing is unfair.

Two proposed changes were the idea of a closing bell, since the upfront negotiations go on late into the night, and the possibility of moving the upfront to a different month or creating two half-year selling sessions.

O. Burtch Drake, president-CEO of the 4As, said perhaps a more strenuous debate over the real issue of dissatisfaction-rising prices and falling numbers of viewers-did not occur because "the discussion was constrained by the lawyers." The lawyers, participants said, often demanded that the subject be changed if it veered towards a discussion of pricing-the real bone of contention between clients and advertisers. Lawyers were invited to ensure that no anti-trust issues were raised.

Bob Liodice, president-CEO, ANA, said some real debate occurred about issues such as moving the upfront to another month, like September, but participants offered reasons why that couldn't happen.

Another participant, who did not wish to be named, said some attendees were wondering why they were there at all: "No agency buyer, especially with their clients present, is going to put anything into jeopardy." The executive pointed out that with the upfront looming, this was no time to be discussing the idea of a closing bell when so much money is at stake. "If staying late means you get a better deal, then you'll stay late."

The head of ad sales for one cable network said reactions of attendees ranged "from angry to waste of time to too bad. The fact that they did it on the eve of the upfront is ludicrous." The executive said the upfront won't change unless marketers force the issue: "It's totally in the hands of the advertisers."

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