Turner Broadcasting inadvertently, and certainly unintentionally, personified the single most important message emerging from the national television Upfront marketplace, which begins in earnest this week following months of cable and syndicator presentations and parties culminating in an intense final week of ten broadcast and cable presentations to advertisers and agencies. Turner, whose executives suffered through an agonizing and repetitive series of technological meltdowns, ultimately demonstrated that content trumps technology. Thanks to fast-talking by Turner Entertainment programming czar Steve Koonin and a comedy turn from Conan O’Brien, Turner managed to save-the-day. The unintended message: those who depend on technology to deliver their messages are subject to unmitigated disasters. Translated: advertisers who place too much of their budgets into digital media, no matter how tested they may be, are putting their eggs into a basket based on technology rather than loyal consuming audiences.
CBS reinforced that same message – a tried and true formula for the network. The network promises reliably performing programming, loyal audiences, delivery on promises and a formula for success that assures continuity and stability – for both the network and its advertisers.
As I commented in last week’s report, the theme throughout this year’s Upfront season has been the power of television not only for reaching scalable audiences, but for driving emotional connections and, most importantly, sales results. While agency media buyers continue to depend on Nielsen ratings as the currency for TV ad pricing, more marketers are using marketing analytics data generated by Marketshare, TRA Global, Ipsos/OTX, Simulmedia and others to provide performance-based measures of media value. And these tools are consistently reinforcing the positive role of television.
My colleagues at MediaBizBloggers.com,Ed Martin andSimon Applebaum, weigh in with their reviews of last week’s Upfront presentations here, and Ed follows our tradition of assigning 1 to 5 “jacks” to each network’s performance. Whatever Ed and Simon may offer in the way of comparative analysis is secondary to the extraordinary resurgence of national television advertising and quality television content apparent throughout this Upfront season. Advertiser and agency executives, Wall Street analysts, trade press reporters and Hollywood studio representatives -- not to mention millions of loyal TV audiences -- should be thrilled with the thriving economics of the network business and studio business model. A decade ago, all the networks were losing money, studios were collapsing and viewers were deserting, taking advertisers with them.
Today and into the foreseeable future, the fundamentals of the network television business are sound. Sure audiences are viewing programs on multiple platforms, but these platforms are being successfully monetized by both the networks and the studios (who are, more frequently, one and the same). Networks and studios have finally identified formulas for sustainable success. Although there were more new series introductions and program replacements this season than ever before, the networks are evolving strategies that assure more programming continuity in the future and multiple revenue-generating strategies that assure increased profitability.
As the business moves through another Upfront season with the inevitable trade press post mortems and detailed economic analyses, there are overriding caveats that need to be recognized and understood:
1. Network and syndicated national television is not about ratings delivery. First and foremost it is about talent. The networks that fail to highlight their on-screen, writing and production talent make the serious error of ignoring the fundamental and underlying strength of their business. Reliance exclusively on data, scheduling and program clips reduces the business to an undifferentiated commodity. Top talent – from Christina Aguilera to Jonathan Demme – are attracted to the TV medium because the economic underpinnings are solid. That’s a story worth highlighting.
2. Networks and studios have avoided the pitfalls of the music industry and are effectively monetizing their content investments, and they still have significant revenue upside. Digital platforms received just passing comment in most of the Upfront presentations as the core business remains the priority. There is obvious incremental revenue growth potential as online and mobile video advertising opportunities increase.
3. Even more opportune, as broadcast and cable networks develop programming that has intrinsic brand equity, and as one and 2-screen interactivity evolves, there will be progressively more revenue potential from sponsorship, social TV commerce, experiential and event marketing, gaming, merchandising and promotional initiatives.
4. Parties and entertainment are important, especially when they are creatively appropriate to the network brand. Adult Swim hosted a late night party featuring a 45-minute performance by Jay Z. The enthusiastic response of the crowd reflected the youth movement in the media business and reinforced a leadership position the network has quietly captured with both audiences and advertisers. At the CW presentation, the rap/dance group LMFAO opened the show and totally energized the presentation. And Fox delighted their audience with performances by the cast of Glee and recent American Idol contestants.
5. With more and more senior executives staying in their offices and viewing presentations via closed circuit, well-designed, entertaining and relevant Upfront presentations and parties become a vital catalyst for bringing out the top agency and client execs, reinforcing a network’s core strengths, putting the network’s talent out front, and creating an opportunity for senior network and corporate management, plus studio management, to personally connect with their customers. There should be some sensitivity by agency and client executives that if they are no-shows, they will at least be missed. No matter how well-produced a remote feed, the live experience should be more compelling. If it’s not, something is wrong.
6. Finally, as the Turner experience reaffirmed, network TV is all about story-telling and talent. This Upfront will be a strong one for networks because their medium is a powerful force for advertising. Technology is a powerful engine for accelerating that force, but TV’s greatest value is that even without technological bells and whistles, the power of the medium remains at full strength.
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