Upfront: Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

By Evolution Shift Archives
Cover image for  article: Upfront: Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

Many of you know that I spent a number of years in the advertising, media and entertainment businesses. After working at NBC and CBS, I was part of the sales team that launched MTV, CNN Headline News, Nickelodeon and VH1. More relevant to the subject of this column I partnered with my good friend Jack Myers to create Television Production Partners (TPP) in the mid-1990s

So, as a former participant in Upfronts and a current globally oriented futurist I offer here a perhaps unique view of Upfront Week.

In my travels both domestically and internationally I speak to, interact with, and learn a lot about a wide variety of industries, Whether I am speaking to shopping center developers in the Middle East, credit union CFOs, educators, Latin American financial firms or manufacturers, I am always introduced to markets by those that operate in them. Each of these markets is important to those in them but perhaps less relevant to anyone else. We all become inhabitants of our industry silos. My good fortune is that I touch and delve into a lot of different silos, offering me a unique view on trends, forces and dynamics at play on the planet. This allows me to see things others may not.

It is with this wide view that, due to the great coverage here and elsewhere I was reminded that last week was oh yes, it's –role of the drum please –Upfront Week!

Really? An Upfront week that still matters? Hmmmm, I thought that was becoming a historical relic. I guess not.

As a now distant outsider looking in, it seemed that the Upfront week just past was perceived as a rebound of sorts. Quality dramas! The return of the sitcom! Is reality programming on the decline? Each network took pains to speak to quality, an underlying programming philosophy and made an attempt at differentiation. Well, maybe all of that is true, but the Upfront week is not coming back as there is no back these days, only forward, and fast forward at that.

The coverage going forward is predictable. First there is the soon to be determined consensus of "experts" as to which shows will be the hits. Then in September, will be the stories about the "hits". That will be followed by the October and November stories of all the cancelled series that failed. The real story will come in January when the conglomerates that own the networks will report all the red ink generated by this current batch of quality dramas and sitcoms during the fourth quarter.

Again, from a distance it seems like the Upfront week seemed bigger when in reality it was just that, for the first time in two years, there was some oxygen in the marketplace, so everyone breathed deeply. While watching this increasingly less relevant media event from afar, what came to mind was that wonderful novel from the 1960s by Richard Farina, "Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me"

There is one note however from last week that is an important note for the networks. That note is creating programs, and network brands, that consumers want, quality or otherwise. While that has always been the case, this time that concept will show its importance in a soon to change landscape. The justification for programming expenditures being okay for broadcast networks now is the retransmission revenues that provide the second revenue stream in an era of ever smaller audiences.

In the next three years we will start to see the decline of the cable television subscription business. Consumers will force the MSOs to either accept significant declines in number of subscribers or give in to ala carte pricing. When ala carte pricing becomes the norm, consumers will pick the networks they really watch. The broadcast networks will trump the niche cable networks if they deliver on their Upfront promises.

That though is the subject of future columns.

David Houle is a futurist, strategist and speaker. He has always been slightly ahead the curve. Houle spent more than 20 years in media and entertainment. Most recently, David is a featured contributor to Oprah.com. Check is out here www.oprah.com/davidhoule. David can be contacted at David@DavidHoule.com.

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