(This blog is the second in Harmelin’s Fall Preview Series highlighting the good, the bad, and the brilliant in the upcoming 2014 Fall television season. All four major networks, as well as the CW and the cable networks will be featured throughout the series.)
bc.jpg” width=”100″ />The 2014 Upfronts kicked off in New York City, Monday, May 12th with NBC’s morning presentation at…the Javits Center?! Calling out the relocation from NBC’s long-time upfront location at the famous Radio City Music Hall, comedian Seth Meyers welcomed the advertising industry to “the heart of New York’s historical Stabbing District.” Joking aside, the network executives proudly proclaimed that they were on track to finish number one in A18-49 for the first time in 10 years, thanks to hits like The Voice and The Blacklist coupled big live events that provided the much-needed ratings boost. Surprise hit Sound of Music and sports staples Sunday Night Football and the 2014 Sochi Olympics (to which NBC has renewed the rights through 2032) gave the network the bump needed to land in the number one position on A18-49 (up 13.9%) and secure the second position on total viewers.
NBC’s 2013-14 accomplishments were not confined to primetime. With Fallon taking over as the host of the Tonight Show, the program has seen its highest ratings in 20 years, helping to further secure the network’s strong position leading into the 2014-15 broadcast season.
Taking a different approach to the industry norm of presenting the fall line-up by day of the week, Fox, dubbed by former Chairman of Entertainment Kevin Reilly as “America’s Next Generation Network,” presented new shows by genre. Reilly called the portfolio “the biggest investment in programming we’ve ever made.” Aside from new and returning dramas and comedies, Fox’s 2014-15 primetime slate will include stand-alone events and unscripted programs to drive tune-in. New dramatic mini-series featuring big-name talent including Anna Gunn, Terrence Howard, Juliette Lewis, and Melissa Leo will drive interest for two new 10-part series, Gracepoint and Wayward Pines.
Reilly promised that its portfolio “will deliver broadcast’s most youthful audience at scale.” The network touts itself as the only network whose median age falls within the 18-49 group, and prides itself on its youth appeal. The network’s concentration in 18-34 year olds is nearly double that of its broadcast rivals.
On Tuesday afternoon of Upfront week, the ABC presentation felt very “Disney.” The opening video focused on both ABC’s broadcast programming and Disney movies, parks, and animation. In her last appearance on stage as Co-Chair of Disney Media and President of the Disney–ABC Television Group, Anne Sweeney paid homage to all Walt Disney brands.
Refocusing on broadcast programming, Sweeney noted, “In this mobile world, every device can be a television.” For this reason, ABC developed its “Watch ABC” app. Sweeney introduced new products such as a multi-cam app that will offer the audience different vantage points, as well as new social tools “Social Lens” and “Fast Share.”
Following Sweeney, ABC President of Sales and Marketing Geri Wang used buzz words like “data,” “scale,” and “automation” to describe the development of its partnership with advertisers. Paul Lee, President of ABC Entertainment Group, described ABC as “THE social network.” Lee explained the strategy behind the 2014-15 lineup as one that protects the stability of the schedule and uses the strongest shows to launch new shows.
After the presentation of programming, Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s late night program Jimmy Kimmel Live, took the stage and made light of the changing tides of the primetime rankings, joking that seeing NBC as a number one network “is like seeing your uncle who works at Arby’s get a Masters [degree].” Kimmel got a rise out of the crowd by likening programmatic buying, a term everyone uses but few understand, to “the gluten of advertising.”
Wednesday afternoon CBS’s presentation opened with a performance from The Good Wife’s Alan Cumming, who recently reprised his role as the Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway. After the performance and introduction of the cast of CBS’s hit show, President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corporation Les Moonves took the stage boasting that, yet again, CBS was the “most watched network on TV.” Impressively, CBS received this title for the 11th time in 12 years, proving that, unlike Kimmel’s depiction of the CBS audience being like a Sasquatch (he’s heard they exist but has never met one), CBS programs have a large following. Moonves said he felt that the industry is currently in the best era yet for television, across all platforms, and that the focus of the network is to bring content to people however they want to view it.
Looking ahead to the fall, CBS is very excited about Thursday Night Football joining its schedule. Because of the major change to their line-up, CBS will be spreading its premieres across several weeks this fall. Stability and consistency were the key messages of CBS’s programming presentation, with the network adding only five new programs to the schedule.
NBC was the first to complete its Upfront sales by the end of June, selling inventory at a 7.5% to 8% increase over 2013-14. NBC approached the Upfront with one portfolio that included broadcast, cable, and digital sold together. Fox closed out its Upfront securing only 2.5% to 3.5% increases in pricing, with as much as a 15% drop in dollar volume year over year. This modest increase in pricing may be the result of the C7 deals negotiated by the network, meaning that advertisers must pay for seven days of viewership as opposed to the current industry standard of three. Agencies are less likely to pay a premium for this type of guarantee. ABC and CBS have essentially completed negotiating their Upfront deals. ABC secured increases ranging from 4% to 5%, down from 7-8% in 2013-14, and CBS has not yet commented on pricing.
This was the first Upfront where networks and agencies negotiated guaranteed deals on a C7 basis. C3 remains the industry norm, but with networks pushing to get paid for additional days of DVR viewership, it will be interesting to see how this shapes the future landscape of network television and what the impact will be for advertisers.