Why This Year’s TV Upfront May Be Unlike Any Other in Recent Memory

With billions of dollars at stake, TV’s annual upfront selling season amounts to a referendum on the health of the U.S. economy in general, and the television business in particular. In 2016, both sides of the buyer-seller divide are preparing for a welcome jolt.

For the past few years, the narrative surrounding traditional TV has been gloomy: As more viewers consume more television via new platforms, ad dollars have spread out far and wide. Indeed, by Variety’s tracking, Madison Avenue has not increased the money it commits in advance to TV since 2012, if not longer. Most concerning to industry veterans is the volume of viewing that is shifting to advertising-free services.

But this year there’s a plot twist. TV spot prices in the scatter market have climbed significantly since last year’s upfront, prompting Wall Street prognosticators and ad-sales honchos to rub their hands in anticipation. All signs point to TV grabbing a bigger share of ad commitments this year — a turn of events that will spark jubilation in Hollywood and among TV’s New York-based ad-sales operations.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about the medium’s health and the effectiveness of old marketing paradigms. And even if the money does return, the business continues to be in extreme flux. TV can’t return to the days when the networks could fill the screens with dozens of episodes of “B.J. and the Bear” and “Fantasy Island” and watch the money roll in.

In this Upfront In-Depth issue, we explore all of those angles. You’ll hear from the NFL’s Brian Rolapp, who is responsible for parceling out where football games are shown, both on TV and in the streaming realm. We take you behind the scenes of a new push by Madison Avenue to embed commercials so deeply into shows that they become indistinguishable from programming.

We visit with Fox’s Joe Marchese, a new force in the industry who is trying to develop alternate forms of advertising he hopes will help the major networks maintain their slices of the $70 billion TV advertising pie.

We also look at the state of play in TV ratings — will this be the year that C7 gets its big break? — and innovations on the horizon for cross-platform measurement spurred by the recent union of ComScore and Rentrak.

With so much change in the air, count on Variety to help you navigate upfronts season with the latest developments in the advertising market and the timeliest programming and industry news. Consider this Upfront In-Depth extra edition a primer for making sense of the road ahead.

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