Upfront 07

Dramas Are a Hit, but Network Could Use Some Laughs

Road to the Upfront: ABC

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The TV upfront is right around the corner, and Advertising Age is here to help you keep track of the players in both broadcast and cable. This week: ABC.

The player: ABC

Key execs: Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, Disney-ABC Television Group; Stephen McPherson, president, ABC Entertainment; Mike Shaw, president-sales and marketing, ABC Television Network
Mike Shaw, president-sales and marketing, ABC Television Network
Mike Shaw, president-sales and marketing, ABC Television Network

The ratings game: ABC's risky decision to move "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursdays paid off: It's the top-rated drama among women 18 to 49 and has turned lead-in "Ugly Betty" into a hit. "Desperate Housewives" continues to perform well on Sundays, but "Brothers and Sisters" hasn't kept as many eyeballs as "Grey's" did in its timeslot last season. "Dancing With the Stars" keeps delivering, but ABC's biggest weak spot is its half-hour sitcoms. Only "According to Jim" and "George Lopez" post serious numbers. ABC ranks third in live ratings this season, with an average of 3.8 million adults 18 to 49.

What you'll hear: ABC bested NBC for the second year among adults 18 to 49 in homes with annual incomes of more than $100,000. It will roll out an aggressive programming slate that has one of next season's biggest no-brainer hits, "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice," starring Kate Walsh.

Digital game: ABC was the first network with a broadband player in last year's upfront and has revamped its player with additional features such as a pause-ad option and multiple size options so viewers can multitask at work. The player will relaunch once more in the fall with expanded prime-time and news content, with a focus on local-affiliate branding and advertising.

Last year's upfront: After agencies rejected Mr. Shaw's last-minute offer to cut deals based on commercial ratings, some tagged it the "Shaw-shank." But the network wrote more than $3 billion, with $2.3 billion in prime time alone and a 3% to 4% CPM increase. Mr. Shaw said he intends to try the same deals again this year even though Nielsen's commercial ratings won't be available until May 31.

The buyer's verdict: John Moore, senior VP at Mullen's Media Hub in Boston, said ABC still needs a hit sitcom. "NBC has always been a place for smart comedy, so what ABC is hoping is that with 'See Jane Run' [with Heather Locklear] it'll finally get one of those critically acclaimed shows."
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