After the steep year/year prime-time audience declines for most of the broadcast networks during the 2007-8 season, how are they going to sell advertising during the current "upfront" period and hope to grow [or even maintain] their revenue for next season?
Our friend Wayne Friedman at MediaPost doesn't think the major networks can entirely cover the audience shortfall by raising their CPMs [cost per thousand viewers].
My guess is the broadcast networks will do just fine. Their audience has been declining steadily for a generation or more and they've convinced advertisers to pony up each year. Is it inertia? Is it the herd instinct of advertisers? Fear of change? The dynamics of the TV ad industry that masks accountability? Likely all of the above.
Writing with near total ignorance [although that rarely stops me] of the upfront ad sales process I can imagine some of the conversations:
Fox: "We're up 3.9% in adults 18-49 over 2006-7. We have American Idol. Please take out your checkbooks".
Fox advertisers: "Most of your gains were from the Super Bowl, without it you'd have been flat year to year, at best. And American Idol slipped again this year, against weak competition."
Fox: "Did we mention Kiefer Sutherland's out of jail and 24 will be back next year?"
Fox advertisers: [Grumbling & writing checks] "Any way you could hold this check until January?"
ABC: "OK, we were down 16% in adults 18-49, but we had the new show momentum working last fall before those damn writers struck. We're sure it'll be back. Where else are you going to find young women watching TV? Not the CW. [laughs]"
ABC advertisers: [Grumbling & writing checks] "OK, just keep my ads off Samantha Who?, that show was a complete fluke last year and it's headed for a dive."
CBS: "Sure, we were down 21.4% in adults 18-49, but a big chunk of that was due to not having the Super Bowl in 2008 after having it in 2007. And nobody, but nobody has that prized older viewing crowd like we do, baby. Did I mention those damn writers and the hell they played with all our scripted shows?"
CBS advertisers: [Grumbling & writing checks] "Just don't tell me that our ad is running on CSI: Hoboken"
NBC advertisers: "We hear Jeff Zucker doesn't care about ratings anymore."
NBC: "Two words: Super Bowl."
NBC advertisers: [Grumbling & writing checks] "So much for the Zucker multi-platform strategy."
CW advertisers: "Wow, with your results from this past season, are you folks going to even be in business for the entire season?"
CW: "Would you like some tickets to a Gossip Girl cast party this weekend?"
CW advertisers: [Grumbling & writing checks] "This damn well better get me a seat at Blake Lively's table."