The US Upfront Season “Won’t Be Too Upbeat”

This year’s upfronts, which begin this month, looks to be a “protracted and potentially painful one”. Having brokered and produced a dozen upfront campaigns myself for clients including Discovery, Lifetime, and FX, I know that world- up close and personal.

Gone are the days of glitzy upfronts as we all knew it. For media buyers on Madison Avenue, it was a happy time heralded by a spate of splashy upfront presentations from programmers trying to lock down commitments to advertise on their networks for the duration of the coming television season. The presentations last for hours, with plenty of pre/post-show schmoozing, drinking and eating. Celebrity appearances and entertainment in between. One of my previous upfront campaigns was an epic 2-hour journey for Discovery Channel, a uber posh event hosted in Manhattan’s Natural History Museum. It was a 3-month production, no costs were spared, punctuated by visits from the channels’ personalities as well as a venomous cobra. Ah the good ol’ days… though I could go without the snake.

But this is not a typical time in the US economy, and as the New York Times reported yesterday, “The deepening recession is forcing advertisers to act more selectively. The channels with the strongest brands and broadest reach may see more business, while niche channels may struggle to sign deals.”

“Other niche channels, meanwhile, are rebranding themselves in advance of the upfront season. Fine Living Network, a branch of Scripps, now calls itself FLN, for instance. And the Travel Channel recently introduced a campaign called “Travel Bug” that taps into viewers’ desires to get away.”

So as networks attempt to draw further emphasis on brand integration and new advertising formats, advertisers continue to search for ad solutions that deliver on scale and quality. This is certainly an exciting (if not uncertain) time in our business. There is no greater opportunity for networks and creative agencies alike to deliver on value across all their offerings. It will be interesting to see which players come out and begin leading the pack.

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