Flying blind into the upfronts?

drone.jpgOne thing you can bank on next week is that the TV networks won’t be showing off dazzling pilots of new shows at the upfronts, as we highlighted in a preview.

Executives have made no secret of the fact that pilots are costly, and, it seems, not all that useful. Already, NBC previewed their season with little more than a few very, very short clips. CBS, ABC and Fox aren’t expected to offer a whole lot more.

So what do advertising buyers think of this brave new world without pilots? Are they and their clients comfortable shelling out big bucks without seeing a full episode of a new comedy or drama.

Here’s what several had to say on the subject:

Aaron Cohen, Director of Broadcast at Horizon Media:

It worries me, but it’s similar to when replacements are made for programs that aren’t working.

It hasn’t been for a while that you’ve been able to lay down a schedule and say ‘This is what I’m buying and it’s going to be there for four quarters.’ You know you want to reach this particular demographic and you know they have an affinity to watch these forms of programming more than others. That’s what you’re looking for.

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.

NBC profits rise, but did the strike hurt?

Members of the Writers Guild of America carry picket signs at NBC television network studios in BurbankDid the strike hurt NBC’s wallet?

In a first quarter where scripted programming was severely limited by the effects of the lengthy Hollywood writers strike, NBC Universal managed to boost its revenue by 3 percent to $3.58 billion, and increase it profit also by 3 percent. But it fell far short of its target of 5-10 percent profit growth.

The truth is, NBC was a bright spot in a surprisingly weak quarterly financial report of parent General Electric, whose overall results were hurt by the soft economy. GE has so far said little about the catalyst or troubles of its media arm which has been struggling since favorites “Friends” and “Frasier” ended their runs four years ago and faces particularly intense pressure to rebound. NBC could again finish the season last in the ratings race behind Fox, ABC and CBS.

It’s possible the profit and revenue gains were the result of cost-cutting. Or, despite Bruce Springsteen’s assertion that there are “57 Channels and Nothin’ On”, maybe TV lovers, you know, love TV, no matter what is on — even if it is a never-ending stream of reality programs such as “Deal or No Deal” and “The Apprentice.”

Speed is the new big — and other ad talk

iaa-logo.JPGThe International Advertising Association (IAA) is holding its World Congress in Washington D.C. this week, when hundreds of advertising and media executives descend on the nation’s capital to talk about social communities, marketing regulation, return on investment, and, of course, the economy.

Here’s what ad industry types are saying:

“Advertising and the economy seem to go hand in hand. Really, the fact that the economy is weakening is going to have an impact on the industry in the short term.” Bob Liodice, President, Association of National Advertisers

“An actors’ strike would be incredibly devastating, particularly to the television business. The industry paid a large price for the last work stoppage. I don’t think either the (local) economy or the business would be able survive something like that.” Jeff Zucker, Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal

Longing for Paulie Walnuts and Paula Abdul

sopranos-award.jpgNBC may be in danger of landing in fourth place (again) in the prime-time ratings war between the major networks, but it wasn’t always that way.

Remember when NBC dominated, thanks to hits like “Friends,” “Frasier,” “The West Wing,” and “Seinfeld”? Even now, stuck in a ratings slump, NBC has some of the most talked-about shows on the air. Think “Heroes,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock.”

NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker has high hopes that the 2008-09 lineup, unveiled last week, will mark a return for the network and told us during an interview that so far it’s getting a strong reception from advertisers.

Nothing upfront about NBC’s upfronts

silverman.jpgSo NBC rolled out its 2008-09 schedule — it covers all 52 weeks, comes six weeks earlier than normal, and, without any pilots or trailers to showcase the new programs, leaves quite a lot to the imagination.

Take the ”The Office” spin-off. NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman sidestepped every question about the show, saying only that it would launch after the Super Bowl with Greg Daniels heading up the project. Other than that? Zip.

Mostly, NBC executives focused on broader themes of the programs and the season. This is how they basically want the scheduling to play: 8-9 p.m. is family hour; 9-10 p.m. is big hit, big show hour; 10-11 p.m is high end, adult dramas.