Less glitz will stick at Upfront '09

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The economy might be bad and the TV industry might have seen better days, but Upfront Week is shaping up to be no less of an event than it was last year.

Upfront Week doesn't come until May, but CBS confirmed Thursday that it is going ahead with its traditional Carnegie Hall presentation. Immediately after last year's event — which was scaled back from previous years yet received strong reviews from the buying community — CBS had put down a deposit to reserve the space. It has among the ad community become an iconic place for the Tiffany network, at least for a day.

"(It's) as you know our favorite venue and is our house," CBS network sales president JoAnn Ross said.

For CBS, the hour or so presentation May 20 will do the traditional work of the upfront, giving advertisers a look at programming. A full-length development cycle, unlike last year's strike-addled season, will guarantee that CBS and the other networks will have something to show. CBS also has the benefit of having a stronger season than the rest of the networks.

CBS also will give advertisers a look at its other resources, from radio to publishing to out-of-home. "It's when we have our most important clients in one place, so it's always important to talk about CBS Corp. assets," Ross said. There also will be a party.

Ross acknowledged the down economy but said that had little to do with whether CBS rented Carnegie Hall. "We have a lot to tell," she said.

The upfronts brought in $9.2 billion for primetime last year, up slightly from 2007.

Another net with a good story to tell is Fox. It had the most traditional upfront last year, with a City Center presentation and a party at the Wolman Ice Rink in Central Park. Its venues for 2009 are uncertain, but Fox is changing days. For years it has closed out Upfront Week on a Thursday, but because of the Memorial Day weekend, it's a better bet to start the week on May 18 — than to end it.

ABC and the CW still are working on their plans and said it is too early to discuss specifics. The CW will have its presentation May 21 at Madison Square Garden Theatre. ABC's is likely to be May 19 at Lincoln Center.

Advertisers and ad agencies are just fine with the upfront new world order, with less glitz and more businesslike presentations.

"They're going to be very similar to last year," said Chris Boothe, president and chief activation officer at Starcom USA. He said the networks have changed the way they do business, having a lot more incremental meetings before the upfront presentations to address individual clients' needs.

Turner Entertainment will stick with last year's playbook and hold another upfront presentation during that week. Turner was the highest-profile cable company to crash Upfront Week, part of its effort to show buyers and advertisers that they are up to broadcast's reach.

A Turner executive said the company will hold an upfront much like last year's, when there were stars, plenty of information on programming and lots of tape of shows. But in May, like last year's event at the Hammerstein Ballroom, there won't be a top-flight musical act.

The wild card is NBC, which last year scrapped its big upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall in favor of a low-key, low-tape "in-front" chat with advertisers in early April. The network confirmed that it will do that again this year.

NBC is using its broadcast of the Super Bowl on Sunday to make a case with advertisers. While networks often invite ad buyers and clients to big-time sporting events to schmooze, NBC is expected to mix the pleasure with business by showing tapes and making pitches.

"They would never show you programming," the buyer said. "I think the NBC plan is smart because they have a larger percentage of clients at the Super Bowl than they would at the upfront." (partialdiff)
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