The Upfronts are dead, long live the Upfronts

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:

Grand Theft Auto IV is cruising

grand-theft-auto.jpgThat was fast. Already, in its first week, Grand Theft Auto IV sold more than 6 million copies globally, rocketing past expectations that were hardly modest to begin with.

So what is it with this game? Well, for one thing, it has been praised by gamers and critics alike who hail it as satirical and multi-layered, the equal of films like “The Godfather” or TV shows like “The Sopranos.”

Made by Take-Two Interactive Software”s Rockstar studio, the game also has its share of detractors, who say it’s too violent and sends the wrong message to kids and young adults. Given the big sales the first week, the criticism doesn’t appear to have hurt its popularity.

WPP won’t be left out of takeover drama

It may not seem as sexy as Yahoo-Microsoft, but there is another notable takeover saga brewing in media. This one is between WPP, the British advertising group, and Taylor Nelson Sofres, the market research firm.

Why does WPP want TNS badly enough that it continued to urge the research firm to engage in talks even after its $1.9 billion bid had been rejected?

It’s partly because research has become so much more essential to advertising these days. With so many media outlets, it doesn’t come as a shock that advertisers are desperate for more information about their products and markets.

CBS pumped about more subdued upfront!

moonves.jpgHold on to your hats, it’s time for the upfronts!

Or maybe it’s “hold your horses” instead. We forgot for a moment that this year the annual advertising bonanza is supposed to be a bit more subdued.

Still, CBS chief executive Les Moonves sounded fairly pumped up about the presentation on May 14, telling analysts that he felt “truly excited about this year’s show because it clearly showcases the way we are refining our media assets and updating our programming to match the needs of today’s market.”

Advertising prices, he said during CBS’s earnings conference call, have been up in the double digits in the scatter market, leading him to forecast a “healthy upfront selling season.”

CBS News = CNN?

CBS Anchor Katie CouricIf CBS tosses its news operation and channels that of CNN, would you care? That conundrum brings to mind a tough question for the media industry as a whole: content may be king, but does brand matter, especially with news?

The New York Times says executives from CBS and Time Warner have discussed reducing CBS’s news-gathering capacity while keeping its top personalities, such as Katie Couric, and paying a fee to buy CNN’s news feeds. Or CBS might keep its correspondents in certain regions but pair them with CNN crews. Anchors like Anderson Cooper already appear on both networks.

Variety says insiders at the two companies “downplayed” the report.

Sure broadcasting legends like Fred Friendly and William Paley may be turning in their graves, but in a world of declining viewership for network news and increased popularity of news consumed on the Web or mobile devices with aggregators like Drudge and Google News, one wonders if this is a smart cost-cutting move for CBS. CBS news is mired in last place amid the continuing struggles of Couric, who was given a $15 million a year contract, to attract new viewers, the Times said.