Makeover for CBS' upfront


UPDATED 8:03 p.m. PT March 11

CBS' traditional glitzy Carnegie Hall upfront presentation will sport a different look that will showcase the entire CBS Corp., not just the broadcast network.

Also, gone this year will be the network's ritzy Tavern on the Green upfront party, which is almost as much a tradition among the ad industry as the upfront itself.

"We're going to do a CBS Corp. upfront," the company's CEO Leslie Moonves told investors and analysts as the annual Bear Stearns Media Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. "We're going to sell advertising. We're going to sell outdoor. We're going to sell radio in all its forms. We're going to sell television stations. We're going to sell syndication. We're going to sell network. And we're going to sell the fall schedule. It's going to be a very different look than we've ever had before."

As for canceling the party at Tavern, "there won't be the bells and whistles," Moonves said. He joked that there would be wine and cheese in the back of Carnegie Hall, itself hardly a budget location.

The company's plans are the latest indication that this year's post-strike Upfront Week would be unlike any other. NBC said last month that it would skip its Radio City Music Hall upfront presentation in favor of an event that will showcase all NBC Universal's assets. ABC and Fox are going with streamlined upfront presentations.

The changes, at least in part, have been prompted by the curtailed development process due to the writers strike, which will leave networks with less finished product to present to advertisers in May.

But the delays in the development of new original scripted TV series this year will have little to no impact on the upfront ad-buying season, according to a poll of media buyers by Mediaweek.

Most buyers surveyed last week during the American Association of Advertising Agencies' annual media conference in Orlando agreed that the broadcast networks' primetime upfront take could total slightly less than last year's $9 billion, with various clients shifting only small portions of their spend into cable, digital or nontraditional media.

And as far as not knowing what new scripted fare will be on offer in the fourth quarter and beyond, buyers said new network fare only constitutes about 20% of their total buy anyway. And even then, they pointed out, many of the new shows presented never make it to air, or at least not when originally scheduled.

"The writers strike may facilitate moving a bit more dollars out of broadcast and into other alternatives, but that's because most agencies and advertisers spent time looking at those alternatives to cover themselves in case the strike continued longer than it did," said Tim Spengler, president of Initiative USA. "But if the broadcast networks price themselves reasonably, we'll buy them. Any dollars that move will be an incremental change, not a sea change."

Buyers were in accordance that average commercial ratings per show plus three-day DVR viewing (termed C3 last year) will continue to be the currency used in this year's upfront. "I think we all have to give C3 another year," said David Verklin, CEO of Aegis Media Americas and CEO of Carat America.

Bill Koenigsberg, president and CEO of Horizon Media, believes that the networks and agencies will find common ground without much delay. "At the end of the day, the networks have a big motivation to work with us," he said. "We have big dollars to spend, and there's no need for us to not work together."

Marc Goldstein, CEO of media conglomerate GroupM North America, which oversees media agencies MindShare, Mediaedge:cia and MediaCom, said this upfront, like last year's, will be "all about analytics."

"You have to get a perspective of where the upfront should be in terms of price and then make a decision as to whether you buy early or wait," he said. "Analytics drove Rino (Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Group M) to buy early in last year's upfront. And that decision proved to be more than the right thing to do."

Although formal upfront negotiations may not be going on right now, conversations have been ongoing throughout the season about deals that could be done, either short- or long-term.

Network sales executives were somewhat a rare sight at this year's AAAA media conference. ABC sent a small contingent, and Fox sales president Jon Nesvig was there as well. Wanting to make a subtle point without antagonizing media agency executives before the opening of the marketplace, Nesvig only said: "Our business is exceptionally strong and healthy at the moment. We look forward to working with all of our clients."

John Consoli is a senior editor at Mediaweek.