NEW YORK Last year's broadcast upfront market took about two weeks to complete. This year's could take two months, according to both buyers and sellers. One reason: Clients will take longer to examine the array of digital offerings the networks have come up with to capture the growing audiences spending time with broadband, wireless and other digital applications and the resulting pool of ad dollars that advertisers will spend in that space.
For the networks, the digital ad dollars are relatively small. But "you can see it exploding in the future," said Leslie Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS. Buyers estimate that spending on network digital extensions will total only 2 percent of the total network ad pie, or around $400 million.
But usage is already extensive. Fox claims that its digital properties, including the recently acquired MySpace.com, reached almost 50 percent of people aged 18 to 34 (more than 75 million), who accessed 30 billion Web pages in the month of April alone.
And sorting out all the options will take longer this year, said Jon Nesvig, president of sales at Fox. "It's getting more complicated; there are a lot more pieces, and the upfront will stretch out longer this year because of the complications," he said.
Like the other major networks, CBS unveiled a number of new digital offerings at its upfront presentation last week, although one project in particular illustrates the network's efforts to link traditional and digital platforms in seamless ways that make them easy to navigate for both viewers and advertisers. Gold Rush! from Mark Burnett is a national treasure-hunt game that will run on AOL, with clues in CBS programs and commercials.
Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, estimates that the network's digital offerings for the new season will collect perhaps $200 million in ad sales, "with that figure tripling over the next few years."
At this point, he said, the dollars are secondary. "I think advertisers are clamoring for ideas." The network unveiled a collection of new digital offerings at its upfront last week under the "TV 360" umbrella that will offer upwards of 100 new digital extensions for programs in the new season.
Among them is a new broadband comedy channel called DotComedy.com that will feature sitcoms from the NBC Universal program library, viral videos, clips from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and other late-night programs, and original content in the form of blogs and podcasts. Most of the ideas, said Zucker, were developed based on feedback and discussions with clients and agencies.
The new CW network will tap into the growing interest in user-generated content, offering viewers the chance to create promotions at the network Web site, some of which will be placed on air. Bill Morningstar, head of sales for the network, said it would also offer advertisers the opportunity to have content created by viewers. "We're creating an interactive experience where the Internet can actually feed content to the television," Morningstar said.
MyNetworkTV, the new Fox-owned network of prime-time English-language telenovelas, will leverage the social networking and promotional capabilities of sibling company MySpace.com to attract traffic to its cross-platform programs, said Twentieth Television president and COO Bob Cook.
Clients and agency execs applauded the networks' efforts, but stressed it's early. "I think it's a good first step," said Andrew Jung, senior director of advertising and media services at Kellogg. "It's early and I think we're all experimenting with different applications, some of which will work and some won't."
Jason Maltby, president of national broadcast, MindShare North America, said that "ultimately, the incentive for advertisers to buy in will be for consumers to buy in and engage" with the new digital fare. "It's definitely out there in a more public way now."
Larry Novenstern, evp, director of national electronic media, Optimedia, said the digital applications may help buyers create better accountability metrics. "I think a lot of these opportunities will afford us the ability to test the ROI components," he said.