Rank expects bargains in the market

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When it comes to understanding an advertiser's upfront expectations and anxieties, the best person might be a media buyer who was formerly an advertiser.

That would include someone like Dan Rank, managing partner at Omnicom Group's Optimum Media Direction, New York.

Mr. Rank's resume includes stints at the Lever Bros.' (now Unilever) in-house planning and buying group and, later, as national media manager at Stroh Brewery Co. He joined the Chicago office of Needham Harper (now DDB Worldwide) in 1985, moving seven years later to New York to handle consolidation of all national buying for DDB.

When OMD was formed in February this year, combining the buying functions of all Omnicom agencies, Mr. Rank was chosen to head the national media buying division. His OMD group currently represents 87 national advertisers, placing about $3 billion per year. Mr. Rank, who was named an Advertising Age Media Maven in 1998, spoke to Ad Age reporter Richard Linnett about the 2000 upfront buying season.

AA: What is the hottest best buy on network or cable?

Mr. Rank: It depends on what you determine hot. In terms of bargains, there are bargains to be had. In terms of specific shows I'd anticipate, for kids, "Pokemon." Certainly in prime-time TV, clients are going to be looking at "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Had I told you about "Millionaire" hosted by Regis Philbin before it aired, you would have said, "You've got to be kidding me." And I know, because I've spoken to several heads of programming who all said, "I would've turned it down." We all would have, probably.

And look where ABC aired it. The network aired it in August. [ABC executives] had no idea what they had. I know a lot of my counterparts are willing to guess what's hot and what's not, but they tend to be time-period guesses as opposed to program guesses.

AA: Are syndicated shows worth pursuing?

Mr. Rank: Many of them do better than broadcast prime-time ratings. They tend to be cheaper. There are good buys out there. But syndication is a lot of court shows and talk shows and off-network sitcoms.

AA: Is the upfront obsolete?

Mr. Rank: It is necessary from two standpoints. If everyone just went to scatter, you'd have wild pricing fluctuations. One advantage to the upfront is that it tends to have more sensible pricing fluctuations. And the networks love it for inventory management; hence, if we don't buy it during the upfront, we have the risk of ABC saying, "I have no `Millionaire's' left." With that in mind, we've got to buy it during that time.

And [networks] do offer incentives. You can get the programming you want, it's all available and they will, say, guarantee your cost per thousand. That's a powerful incentive these days when ratings are dropping, or should I say, fluctuating wildly. "I guarantee your audience, and I guarantee that the programming you want will be available." That's a powerful motivation for us. In the past five-plus years, scatter's been worse than something upfront. The upfront may not be the ideal system, but it's still the best system any of us can come up with.

AA: Will online buying sites have any impact on the upfront market?

Mr. Rank: Zero impact. They just sell remnant space [and] independently produced pro-grams that have done time buys. I don't know why any broadcaster would give their time over to someone else. So far, no one has, nobody of any consequence. I think they'll have zero impact.

AA: How will convergence between networks and dot-coms affect the market? Will swapping out avails for equity shares tighten up the market?

Mr. Rank: We don't know what their agreements are because they are not public. And in most cases they are not ownership positions, they are alliances. So we don't know how much [space] they took out last year, and you certainly don't know how much they are going to take out this year. Now the network may know, but they are not sharing that information with us.

How much inventory are we going to lose to the networks' strategic dot-com partners? It's an unknown. Convergence is one of the big unknowns.

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