Strike hasn't killed upfronts


The writers strike is over; the broadcast upfront presentations are not.

CBS, ABC and the CW on Thursday joined Fox in sticking with their planned presentations, leaving NBC as the only network not yet committed to the annual showcase.

CBS said it will "hold a presentation for advertisers" at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 14. ABC said it will hold its upfront presentation May 13 at the Lincoln Center. Fox's presentation will take place May 15 at the New York City Center. The CW also will present May 15 at Madison Square Garden.

A rep for NBC said that "changes will be made to NBC's upfront, plans are under way and we will have an announcement shortly."

Sources indicated NBC is mulling several scenarios for an event — described as more "client-focused" — to take place during upfront week, probably not at the network's trademark venue of Radio City Music Hall. A final decision is expected as soon as next week.

For the past couple of months, it looked as if broadcast networks' upfront presentations could become a casualty of the writers strike, the effects of which dramatically scaled down this year's development season.

NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker said last month that the network was close to canceling its event and was planning to hold private meetings with advertisers instead. "We believe the big show is a vestige of the last decade," he said at NATPE.

But this month, News Corp. chief Peter Chernin said Fox will not abandon the upfront. That sentiment was echoed Thursday by a CBS spokesman. "CBS has a lot to offer advertisers, both on the network and across the company," he said. "This event is a key part of that outreach."

All networks are stressing that the format of the presentations might change, possibly with a toned-down approach.

Ad buyers took the networks' upfront announcements in stride, noting that even with all the talk of change sweeping through the industry, traditions like the upfront are harder to kill.

"This is indelibly etched into how we do business," said Shari Anne Brill, senior vp research at New York-based ad buyer Carat. "The fact is we need to see something in May because everything starts with how we build our (ratings) estimates. We need to look at time periods and schedules. That's how it's going to be for a while."

Chris Boothe, president of Chicago-based ad buyer Starcom USA, agreed that there's still a value in bringing advertisers, ad buyers and the networks together for the upfronts. "It's going to continue to make sense," he said.

One Madison Avenue exec who asked not to be identified said NBC "read the tea leaves wrong" when it announced it was leaning toward killing its upfront presentation — and will have to do one now that the other networks are going forward.

Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York.