Image via Reuters 

As advertisers gear up for the television industry’s biggest event of the year, the TV Upfront, Empower’s National Media Team is ready. We’ve scanned the landscape and have spotted a few trends, proving each year that the Upfront is as different each year as it is similar.

State of the Market
The Upfront is expected to take in a modest increase in dollar volume overall.  Experts agree advertisers are still willing to spend, but budgets are not going up dramatically. This is mostly due to concerns that we’re not out of the financial crisis and still have high unemployment levels.

Regardless, the Upfront is expected to garner between $8 billion and $9 billion. Sellers are currently posturing, saying CPM increases are estimated to be from eight to 10 percent over last year’s Upfront. Sellers are anticipating demand from the automotive, technology, retail, movie and QSR categories, which will set the pace of the overall health of the TV marketplace.  Buyers, on the other hand, know very well the volatility of consumer confidence in the economy and will push for sellers to keep any increases at a minimum.

Upfront Trends
Talk is HOT! This year an unprecedented number of daytime talk shows are debuting in Syndication.  The magic number, five!

NBC Universal will introduce two new shows:  Steve Harvey and Trisha, with Trisha Goddard.  Steve will focus on lifestyle with comedy while Trisha  will look to find her guests “resolution” to their life’s challenges.

Coming back to Syndication will be The Ricki Lake Show, distributed by Twentieth, where she will take the day-to-day challenges of being a mom, wife and friend and then relate them to her audience.

CBS Distribution will introduce Jeff Probst to the daypart from his primetime hosting gig on Survivor, in which he plans to connect to his audience by being down to earth, sincere, and funny.

The most anticipated is Katie Couric’s show, heavily supported by Disney.  Katie’s new show, fittingly titled Katie, has been coined smart talk focusing on lifestyle topics such as health, parenting, and fitness. Leading up to the debut, Katie will be “teasing” her viewers with a weekly web series focusing on the same topics.

The Digital Upfront. Media properties with online video and television content continue to find a place at the Upfront table as it offers advertisers access to rich targeting data.  Hulu and YouTube will compete as a cable/broadcast network this year in the Upfront. They’ll vie for a share of the almost $40 billion in online ad spending that’s estimated for 2012.

These companies will compete with their owners, including Disney, FOX, Comcast and Google, not only for ad dollars, but for viewers’ time. This competition for time and attention will come in the form of original programming, produced by Hulu and YouTube, as well as programming licensed exclusively to these two online video providers.

There’s an App for That. The social TV movement, fueled by tablets and smartphones, has the networks considering second and third screen options. Their apps provide the viewer options to extend the program experience online. Several networks are using the apps to forge deeper connections between viewers and their favorite programs. Turner Networks: TNT and TBS; NBC Universal’s: USA and Bravo as well as AMC lead the way in this area. Each app can create further engagement with the viewer, offering original content and a direct social connection to other fans.

SyFy Gets its Game On.  For the first time ever, SyFy will combine the power of their original TV scripted series, Defiance, to a massive multi-player online game.  Defiance is set in a dynamic and immersive world where humans and aliens defend themselves against outside forces. The series and game can stand on their own, but the combination will prove a potent opportunity for advertisers. Events in the game will impact the series and vice versa, creating a multi-platform entertainment experience.

Cable Networks Chase Competition. Cable networks seem to be diversifying their programming to remain competitive in a fragmented environment. While each cable network claims it will not abandon the programming they’re known for, networks delivering scripted programming will also dabble in reality. Conversely those who are heavy into reality programming will debut scripted series.

NBC Universal Network, USA, who has been a market leader for many years with its original programs such as Burn Notice and Psych, will debut two new reality series this coming year.  NBCU’s Bravo and E! will debut new scripted series, leveraging their success to date with reality programs like Top Chef, The Housewives franchise and the Kardashians.

Wrapping the Upfront
The Upfront is expected to break sometime after Memorial Day, closer to June. How fast it will move is still up for debate.  If the networks come out bullish and insult buyers by demanding outrageous increases, buyers will stall and wait for level heads to emerge.

It would not be surprising if Network, Syndication and Cable all move around the same time. But Network will set the pace.  Digital will continue to grow. In fact, advertisers need to consider how a video strategy might fit into their future marketing mix. It’s sure to help keep the Upfront a dynamic, annual event.

:: By Tricia Wolfer, Associate Director, Broadcast  


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