Spark's John Muszynski Talks About Gaming the Upfront | Adweek
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Spark's Chief Investment Officer Dives Back Into the TV Marketplace

'We’re scrappy and we operate with a chip on our shoulder'


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Who John Muszynski
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How’s the transition back into TV buying been treating you?
I’m very, very fortunate that I’ve had such a diverse experience base during the 33 years of working at the Starcom MediaVest Group family. But this is what I really like to do and what I think I’m really good at. I feel like I’ve been rejuvenated to be able to work in this agency.

What’s the core philosophy that informs what you do at Spark?
We’re the third player at SMG. Basically, we have a challenger mind-set—we’ve very nimble because of our relative size, but we are also backed by the powerhouse that is SMG. So we have a very creative, hands-on operation … but we don’t have to trade off flexibility for clout and resources. We’re scrappy and we operate with a chip on our shoulder … which is pretty much me in a nutshell.

Given how rapidly the business is changing, this has to be the most fascinating time to be working as a buyer. How has your day-to-day job changed in the last few years?
I’ve been saying this for years, but you can’t just look at it as a television market. It’s a video market. Television viewing is not down, but a lot of it is fragmented and spread out. Technology has changed the way viewers consume video, and there is now so much data at our disposal that I can go well beyond the standard Nielsen metrics. I can see who is consuming what and how those viewing patterns align with their purchasing behavior. If you’re utilizing the metrics the way they stand today, you’re leaving money on the table.

Along those lines, you’re also seeing a lot of changes in how the upfront gets hashed out.
It’s become such a spectator sport—there are so many people watching what’s going on. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the rest of the agency barely knew the upfront was even going on. [laughs] But for all the attention and speculation, the upfront is definitely a smaller piece of the overall business. And there was a period there where as soon as the schedules were announced, we started negotiating. With the softer scatter marketplace we’ve been seeing in the last few years, that’s no longer the case. There’s not a gigantic penalty for keeping money for scatter and holding some of your decisions off a little bit.

With all the data available to make smarter, more effective buys, why is everyone so worked up about changing the currency from C3 to C7?
I guess I’m happy that the rest of the marketplace is continuing to use standard metrics. I’m much more interested in being able to identify the unique opportunities out there, and the window is only open so long where I’ll have an advantage over the rest of the field. I’ve looked at income skew and transactional data for particular categories as they relate to particular shows and in many cases, the top-rated shows don’t perform as well as the No. 10, 11, 12 shows. So if I have that data and the seller doesn’t, I have a big advantage.

What’s on your TV diet?
I watch quite a bit of television. I like The Blacklist, and I still love NCIS and Criminal Minds. My wife says I need to watch more comedies. I need to laugh a little more, I guess. But you know, I love watching the pilots, and every year there are at least a few shows that seem to resonate with everyone. That wasn’t the case last year. There was just one show, The Blacklist, that made me say, “That’s it. That’s the one!”

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