Early Upfront


NEW YORK With both buyers and sellers ready to get the process under way, this year's upfront market is getting a jump on the usual June start time. While the floodgates have yet to open, the growing array of broadcast and cable assets and increased complexity of finalizing deals means talks have started and, in some cases, a few deals have already been made.

It remains unclear, however, to what degree the shaky economy will affect spending (last year, the combined broadcast and cable upfront take was about $16 billion). Another factor for advertisers to ponder: Broadcast network prime-time viewing is down another 15 percent this season while cable viewing is up about 6 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Done deals include Liberty Mutual's NBC sponsorships covering made-for-TV movies, some Beijing Olympics programming this summer, other broadcast programming and a variety of digital extensions. Publicis Groupe's Starcom reached agreements with Discovery Networks, DirecTV and several other networks for an array of high-definition programming set to air next season.

With so many more ways to reach consumers, buyers said they need the extra time to meet and conduct business with the growing number of vendors.

"It's a much more complex process," said Andy Donchin, evp, director of national broadcast, Aegis Group's Carat. He noted that he has taken recent meetings with representatives from video networks that didn't exist a year or two ago, including those for JetBlue Airways and Six Flags amusement parks.

"You have to embrace the new without abandoning traditional media," explained Donchin. "They don't work in isolation. They complement one another, so the more screens you can put your message on to extend your reach, the better."

Complicating matters further are the broadcast and cable networks expanding the number of platforms they offer advertisers in the upfront. For years, those offerings were largely contained to prime-time TV. Two years ago, NBC put a full array of digital extensions on the table and the rest of the networks quickly followed suit.

This year, both NBC and CBS are making available every platform they have, from network, digital and out-of-home to local broadcast.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves told investors and analysts at a media conference last month that the network would be doing "a CBS Corporation upfront" where it presents its new season to advertisers at New York's Carnegie Hall, May 14: "We're going to sell outdoor. We're going to sell radio in all its forms. We're going to sell television stations. We're going to sell syndication. We're going to sell network. It's going to be a very different look than we've ever had before."

NBC is taking a similar approach when it presents to advertisers on May 12 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (It already held a smaller, prime-time-only event, but more on that later.) "Everything that the company has out there will be on display," said Mike Pilot, president of sales at NBC Universal. This includes network and local TV, digital, out-of-home, cable and Spanish-language TV network Telemundo.

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