Interest in Digital Yields New Scatter Market

NEW YORK More dollars are expected to be spent on online extensions of broadcast network shows in this upfront than ever before, but a sizable amount—as much as $150 million overall—also may be held back for digital opportunities that arise during the course of next season, according to media buyers. Call it the “digital scatter market.”

“Just because an advertiser spends less in the upfront doesn’t mean they are pulling money out of television,” said Marc Goldstein, CEO of media agency conglomerate GroupM USA. “If some advertisers are spending less in the upfront this year, it might be because they are holding back dollars for online or other opportunities that might come up at a later date.”

Clearly, the broadcast networks will be offering a myriad of online opportunities for new and returning shows. NBC, for example, has at least one online tie-in (and, in many instances, several) for every single prime-time show, said Peter Naylor, head of NBC Universal Digital Media Sales, who added that the net will use both TV and digital ad salespeople to negotiate in the upfront.

While few expected NBC’s Heroes would end up the season’s breakout hit and spawn all sorts of digital extensions, Naylor said this upfront NBC is more prepared to cover its bases across all shows.

Among NBC’s 2.0 opportunities is the creation of an area on both NBC.com and iVillage for Bonfire Magazine, the fictional publication where the women in the new NBC drama Lipstick Jungle work. In addition to sponsorship opportunities on the sites, Naylor said the network might produce an actual Bonfire Magazine, sponsored by an advertiser or advertisers, for distribution—a sort of reverse product integration.

As for the other networks, The CW has general online concepts for every show, which will be further developed and refined as more episodes are produced and storylines flushed out, explained Alison Tarrant, the net’s svp, integrated sales and marketing.

Farthest along are those planned for new drama Gossip Girl. The CW hopes to launch a Gossip Girl Web site. On it, users can go to a character’s virtual bedroom and click on a closet, iPod or cosmetics area to get information on products and actually purchase those that are integrated into the show.

The new Interactive Audience Network at CBS lets the network offer its shows across multiple Web venues, including AOL, Microsoft Network and CNET’s TV.com, and all of that content will be available for advertiser support. To boot, new shows like Viva Laughlin and Cane, which have strong music components, also will offer opportunities for music advertisers online.

The creation of custom cross-platform packages (including online components) based on advertiser needs, is the order of the day at Fox. In addition to Fox.com, the network also has corporate sibling MySpace.com, on which it can offer online enhancements to advertisers. “If an advertiser wants to get involved with a particular show, we will find a way to do it threaded across as many of our platforms as the advertiser wants,” explained Jon Nesvig, Fox sales president.

Most of the networks said if an advertiser wants to be involved with a digital extension for a particular show, they will ask for a ballpark commitment that can be adjusted upward or downward after the upfront as the concept takes shape. Regarding billing, some nets may ask for extended on-air ad buys and give the client the online component, just charging for production costs. Others may charge separately, based on the extension’s potential page views. All that will add time to the negotiations.

“It’s a more complicated process now,” said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for GroupM. “With all the integrations and online components, it just takes longer to do deals. And no one feels we will lose an opportunity if we take our time.”