NBC says upfront market too tough to call

May 4, 2009

Las Vegas should have a line on the upfront market, particularly this year. What’s the over/under on total dollars? What are the odds the networks will hold back big chunks of inventory? How quickly will everything be decided?

Every year the networks’ sales executives and the media buyers talk their books. Fair enough. But this year, many seem to be shrugging their shoulders when asked about the upfront market.

On the one hand, maybe advertisers are ready to open up their checkbooks; after all, they don’t want their brands left out if the economy rallies and consumers start to spend again. On the other hand, do they really believe the economy is about to rally and consumers are about to start spending again?

NBC Universal’s ad sales team didn’t shed a whole lot of light on matters at Monday’s presentation of the new network lineup, which features six new shows. (Really, there should be Vegas odds on how fast some of these shows will be yanked; that seems to be the way of the business these days).

Here’s what Michael Pilot, President, NBCU Sales & Marketing, said when asked by a reporter about the upfront market:

We’ve been in this recession for a year and a half now. Last year’s upfront was exceptionally strong both in terms of volume and price.

After the craziness of the fall, we saw some pullback in second quarter options. But then the second quarter scatter market turned out to be healthier than we had anticipated.

We’re feeling anecdotally that advertisers are leaning forward getting ready to move. If you think about the recovery sometime later this year or early 2010, we’re starting to see advertisers lean into that and get ready for that. But I’m not ready to call it one way or another. I think it’s going to be interesting.

Marianne Gambelli, President, NBC Network Ad Sales, chimed in with the following:

Clients are more focused than they’ve ever been on what’s the right decision and what’s the right mix. Obviously, flexibility is key.

But they also are looking at making commitments when things are more favorable. As this economy recovers, scatter has been known to spike quite high and clients are concerned about that.

I think everybody is trying to get on board to get the right mix. You can’t predict it. It’s too soon to tell. But the conversations are much deeper than they have been before.

(Photo: Reuters)

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