When it comes to NFL, TV executives put on brave face

NFL players association members arrive for negotiations with NFL in Washington Mar 11 2011

Shrewd? Prescient? Delusional? Tough to know, but top TV executives this week all seemed relatively confident — even off the record — when asked about the chances that NFL games would be played this fall.

The background, of course, is that NFL team owners and players are at odds over salary caps and other issues, raising the possibility of a lockout and the cancellation of some or all of the 2011 football season. Very bad news, if you’re a fan or a network executive.

As Yinka Adegoke and Liana Baker wrote in a piece this spring, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of the NFL to the revenue and profits of broadcasters like CBS Corp, Walt Disney’s ESPN, Comcast Corp’s NBC and News Corp’s Fox.”

Consider this:  The broadcast and cable networks that share the NFL rights sell about $3 billion in advertising time for games each season. That’s $3 billion that’s up for grabs.

At The CW, it’s all about supernatural, soaps and the 90s

Upfront week is winding down, with the CW having rolled out its lineup. As Entertainment Weekly points out, the schedule is straight out of the early 90s. A quick look:

(New series in bold)


8-9 pm: Gossip Girl

9-10 pm: One Tree Hill


8-9 pm: 90210

9-10 pm: Melrose Place


8-9 pm: America’s Next Top Model

9-10 pm: The Beautiful Life


8-9 pm: The Vampire Diaries

9-10 pm: Supernatural


8-9 pm: Smallville

9-10pm: America’s Next Top Model (Encore)

(Reuters photo of “Gossip Girl” star Blake Lively)

Fox upfront: Watch “Glee” and look for Kiefer at the bar

For those of you unable to make it to the Fox upfront today at the New York City Center (or skipped it and went straight to the party), here are some of the takeaways:

    Fox introduced its four new comedies and two dramas to its prime-time lineup, plus the Wanda Sykes show on Saturday nights. The best looking of the bunch was “Glee” — a cutting comedy, musical feel-good hour that has received some big hype. The show may be deserving, if the clip played for media, advertisers and affiliates today is any indication. It got a rousing cheer from the crowd. But not as rousing as the cheer for Kiefer Sutherland, who showed up (as he often does) to thank everyone for their support of “24.” He wrapped up by saying, “I don’t want to take up much more of your time, because I know you can’t wait to get to the party. It promises to be a good one. I will be looking for you… at the bar.” Nice one, Kiefer. Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and Sales President Jon Nesvig took pains to remind the audience that broadcast network TV is not yet dead, and in fact still blows away cable TV and online video. They sounded a bit like newspaper executives. “All the noise and data I’ve seen over the last six months tells a great story about network television,” Reilly said. “Network TV is still the biggest branding opportunity out there.” Peter Rice, the new chairman of Fox Entertainment, made an appearance. The executive behind movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” as well as “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Juno,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” sounded happy as a clam to be over on the TV side of the business.  “In movies it just takes forever to finish a film. You can spend years, literally years, working on screenplays. Then another year shooting and editing. And perhaps as much as a year marketing. And when it hits the theaters, you all cross your fingers and hope it can do $100 million. If it does $100 million, you breathe a sigh of relief and throw a big party and it’s front page news,” Rice pointed out. “In the last eight weeks, I’ve come to realize that a $100 million movie actually translates to about 10 million people. That’s 10 million viewers. And that’s an average number of people who watch Fox every single night. With a show like ‘American Idol’ we deliver 26 million people from stage to screen at light-speed. Think about that: On Tuesday, ‘Idol’ reaches that total number of people who saw ‘Ironman.’  And then it follows it up the next night with the number of people who saw ‘Harry Potter.’ Those movies take weeks to amass that audience.

(Photo: Reuters)

Lifetime, Scripps pitch advertisers

How do you sell TV advertising in this environment? If you’re Scripps Networks, you trumpet the product integration available in your make-over and do-it-yourself programs. You also make no bones about how difficult things are for advertisers and consumers.

At Tuesday’s Scripps upfront presentation (held at Cipriani 42nd Street), executives talked about these “very difficult and challenging times” and described viewers as “disillusioned,” “anxious,” and “frustrated.”

“There has never been a more important time than right now to reach out to viewers about their homes” said one Scripps executive.

Throwing an orgy of pessimism? Well, don’t invite Viacom

How bad is the advertising market? Pretty bad, says Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman. And it’s only going to get uglier.

“It is clear that while as cable network owners we are in a more favorable media segment than most, advertising comps are likely to get worse before they get better,” he said on a conference call today.

This comment may seem dry, but we’re totally ready to cut him some slack since it came shortly after this poetic gem: “And despite the orgy of pessimism prevalent of the late, the economic tide in our economy and our industry will rise again.”

At Fox, two new dramas; half as many commercials

peter.jpgTired of all those commercials? Don’t have a DVR? Fox reckons it has something for you. Forget the name (they’re calling it Remote Free TV) and concentrate on the concept: a big tentpole drama with half the normal commercials and promotional time.

Fox will first try out this idea with “Fringe,” an FBI, mystery, science-fiction, thriller, supernatural drama from J.J. Abrams that’s rolling out this fall.  Come midseason, it will do the commercial shrinking thing with ”Dollhouse” from Joss Whedon, who was behind teen supernatural hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori — after calling his network scrappy and populist — told advertisers at the upfront that he refused to let things get boring. “We’re the number one network. We’re the rebel innovators.”

Zucker upbeat on offbeat upfront

zucker.jpgIn one of the busiest weeks for network TV executives, NBCU’s Jeff Zucker nonetheless stopped by an Avenue A/Razorfish event for a question-and-answer session with the ad company’s vice president of media & entertainment, Domenic Venuto.

Not surprisingly, given it is upfront week, one of the first questions put to Zucker centered on his media company’s rather untraditional upfront.

(A quick refresher: NBC unveiled its lineup for 2008-09 last month, and Monday skipped its usual splashy upfront presentation at Radio City in favor of what it called the NBCU Experience over at 30 Rockefeller Center. For more details click here). 

ABC upfront has a little fun with Kimmel

kimmel.jpgMuch has been made about ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS taking a low-key approach to their upfront presentations this year. Still, ABC brought out Jimmy Kimmel for a few jokes in a reminder of what these events were like in past years.

Here are a few of Kimmel’s better lines for advertisers:

- This year, as you’ve noticed, we scaled back a lot. There’s no party, no food. ABC may be the worst date ever. We expect you to put out and we’re not even buying you a drink.

- We’ve decided to concentrate less on the afterparty and more on shows that aren’t ‘Cavemen.’

The yin and yang of TV ad pricing

shaw.jpgWhy have prime-time network TV advertising prices been so strong in the scatter market — up in the double digits — after a rather lackluster upfront in 2007?

ABC’s head of sales, Mike Shaw, offered a few answers for the discrepancy between the shorter term scatter market and the longer term upfronts.  But he said a lot of it can be blamed on networks selling advertising too cheaply in last year’s upfront.

Shaw said he’d rather see a far smaller gap in prices between the two markets. “I’d like to see less of a swing in the pendulum between the upfront market and the scatter,” he told reporters after ABC unveiled a very modest 2008-09 schedule.

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.