The Upfronts are dead, long live the Upfronts

May 13, 2008

upfront2.jpgFor years we have interviewed media analyst/newsletter editor/industry maven Jack Myers about the television upfronts. We have tried to track him down at upfront parties, cocktail napkin in hand, to get his initial reaction on the new shows trotted out by the networks while he talks to the most senior executives. We have written up his forecasts and predictions on how many billions of advertising dollars the nets will say they have booked.

And now, in what may be the most definitive sign that more than 50 years of upfront fanfare has come to an end, Myers says he will no longer prognosticate on their outcome, according to an e-mail newsletter sent round today:

This year, I am not offering predictions nor will I report after-the-fact on network Upfront revenues. The Upfront is no longer a representative indicator of network performance and the information released by the networks is, at best, questionable. If a network ever actually reports poor performance in the Upfront, then we can be assured it was a disaster.

The change of heart makes sense given the total overhaul of the television industry. Networks are selling more and more advertising for shows not only when they appear on air, but on the Internet as well. A television writers’ strike over the winter that brought pilot production to a standstill means they have very few shows to preview to advertisers this year. The introduction of a new ratings system to account for DVR use has wreaked havoc on the numbers used to set advertising rates.

And of course, there’s the economy.

But we are definitely sad to hear this from Jack, whose predictions were so on target:

My own performance has generally been on-the-money, although last year I believed the market would be considerably softer than it, in fact, turned out to be.

Aside from the specific revenue forecasts, Myers does give general conclusions about the state of upfront negotiations. Based on his talks with industry leaders, he sees a reasonably quick haggling season that should end before the July 4 holiday weekend. He expects the networks to boost their CPM pricing and incremental revenue from their new digital distribution models.

(Photo: Reuters / ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” at the more festive 2007 upfronts)

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