The television upfront buying season – the casino is now open

Various articles regarding this week’s television upfront buying have highlighted rising ad rates. The Wall Street Journal noted that this week’s annual ‘upfronts’ are kicking into high gear. David Carr in the New York Times wrote about the peripatetic nature of television watching in his house (and mine) – he who controls the remote, controls viewing of live television. But no surprise to anyone, increasingly more people (nearly 50% of the population has a DVR) are watching shows recorded on their DVR.

The upfront television ad-buying market seems to me to be a high-stakes poker game in an expensive casino. Networks, both broadcast and cable, promote their new (and old) shows to advertisers in an effort to get maximum rates for their programming. Successful programs like CBS’ 2 Broke Girls would constitute a ‘win’ in the casino whereas the NBC show Playboy Club that flamed out in less than a month last fall would be a losing bet.

As Mr. Carr puts it:

‘Part of what keeps legacy television in the game is that it is the last refuge of mass and reach. For retailers who want to flag a sale or an entertainment company with a weekend movie opening, a commercial on a broadcast network or a highly rated cable station can still hammer a message into a lot of noggins. In this targeted age, it’s breathtakingly inefficient — you pay to reach everyone, even the millions not in the desired age group — but making a big television buy is a kind of comfort food, easy and familiar.”

I suspect that the days of upfront television buying are nearing an end. This is not a hope or desire of mine, more of an observation that increasing numbers of advertisers will just say no to the Monte Carlo aspect of outbidding one another in order to spend money on any particular show or shows.

But for the present with the CW network booking $9 billion in advertising revenue and the big four up 2 to 4 percent over 2011 the end is seemingly far from near. Cable networks which now surpass broadcast networks in ads booked during upfront anticipate nearly $10 billion in buys for the new season. There will be winners and losers – both in the creators of the shows themselves as well as the advertisers that were unlucky enough to back the wrong ‘horse’. The whole thing just seems archaic to me.

The stock market is seen by many as a giant casino. Do you think the television upfront market is really any different?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Advertising, Marketing stuff, Media, Television advertising and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The television upfront buying season – the casino is now open

  1. Great piece, Mark. I just wrote about the upfront from a slightly different perspective. I focused more on the economics of it favoring the sellers.


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