How Many Upfronts Does TV Need During 'Upfront Week'?
NBC Universal's USA network is adding yet another presentation to the ever-expanding annual TV-industry showboat known as "Upfront Week," where the biggest TV networks roll out their coming programs for all -- especially the sponsors -- to see. The trouble? In putting its best foot forward, the very successful cable network will only add to the hoopla that is so much a part of this May week and make it just a little harder for advertisers to get a little quiet time to reflect and analyze.
USA has every reason to take part in the proceedings. With its tightly-sketched, character-based dramas such as "Burn Notice" and "Royal Pains," the network has succeeded in trumping its cable brethren in delivering prime-time audience across several demographics. In some instances, USA has performed better than sibling broadcast outlet NBC (and we have to wonder whether USA would be allowed by its parent company to make this move if NBC's performance were not as sickly as it has been over the last several seasons).
But USA isn't the first cable outlet to take a step into the week once dominated solely by English-speaking broadcast outlets. ESPN and Turner broke away from the cable pack and joined broadcast's week in an effort to make the case to potential sponsors that their offerings should be considered along with broadcast, not in addition to it.
As a result, USA joins a field now also crammed full of presentations from NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, Telemundo, Univision, CW, ESPN, TNT and and TBS. It's getting to the point where media buyers and advertisers are left with precious little time to mull over how they will allocate billions of dollars of their client's or employer's money -- amid a fast-changing media environment that requires more contemplation and analysis, not less.
And besides, USA's Thursday-evening presentation will compete for attention with a quiet party the CW puts on every year at the same time that often draws an influential set of ad buyers and TV executives.
USA isn't making a wrong move. But the addition of yet another dog-and-pony show in a week jammed full of them ought to leave some of the nation's more thoughtful advertisers a little cold. In a world that also includes Xbox, Netflix, Hulu, cable and satellite operators and iTunes, getting a little time to think things through has never been more critical.
For years, cable networks held their upfront presentations in the late winter and early spring, hoping to plant the idea of being considered in buyers' minds well before the broadcast-week hype . Many still do. And while it's true that the line between broadcast and cable has become blurred -- many younger viewers don't see a distinction -- there is something to be said for a more orderly series of presentations come upfront time. Figuring out how to plunk down $9 billion-plus dollars on TV ads (and that 's just on broadcast) isn't something that should be done in a New York minute. TV executives ought to give marketers more time than that to process what's taking place.
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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.