Upfronts: Meet The Power Players In the 2013 TV Ad-Sales Flurry

Each network will sport its own strategy in a battle to win around $9 billion in prime time ad dollars

The funny thing about “Upfront Week” is that, usually, very little “upfronting” actually takes place.

All eyes next week will be on glitzy presentations from Fox, CBS and the rest, as TV networks start their bid to secure advertiser commitments for their new programming schedules. Unlike actresses and comedians, however, the real business of the events isn’t trotted out for all to see on the stages of Carnegie Hall. The five English-speaking broadcast networks will be looking to surpass the $8.8 billion to $9.3 billion in ad commitments they notched in 2012, and talks typically won’t begin in earnest until after advertisers have seen all the new schedules and reviewed a couple of pilots.

It won’t be easy. Season to date as of April 25th, each member of the Big Four has seen ratings for audiences between 18 and 49 slump. According to data from Barclays analyst Anthony DiClemente, ABC’s 18-49 rating is down 12.2%, CBS’s is down 5.9%, Fox’s is off 25.1% and NBC’s is down 8.1%. When ratings vanish, the main way for the nets to make it up is by trying to get higher prices in the cost of reaching a thousand viewers, a measure commonly used in upfront talks that is known as a CPM. But with buyers privately suggesting ad clients won’t tolerate any price hike above 5% to 6%, the networks could be in for a tougher upfront than they have experienced in recent years..

Will money move elsewhere? In some years, money moves in a surprising way – in 2012, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision signed an early pact with ad-buyer Starcom. And this year, with big-audience hits such as “The Bible” and “Walking Dead” in tow, cable could steal some share. Advertisers are also placing more stock in web video and Spanish-language TV.

More often than not it’s Fox that gets the ball rolling, with its limited inventory (just ten hours of prime time during the week) and its young male audience. But there are many other players as well, each with their own abilty to influence the pace of the upfronts. Below, a look at the major figures and entities that stand to influence the flow of millons of dollars:

*Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS: She has her marching orders form CBS Corp. topper Leslie Moonves: go out and get CPM hikes in high-single-digit to low-double digit percentage range. . With many ad buyers suggesting they want to stick to CPM hikes of no more than 6%, Ross will have to determine whether to push for Moonves’s price or making deals to keep money from going elsewhere.

*Toby Byrne, president-sales, for Fox Broadcasting Co and Fox Sports Media: With nine new shows announced for the next season, Byrne can try to get sponsors to look away from Fox’s ratings issues (see: “American Idol”) in the current one. Byrne deals from a position of advantage: Fox has a strong viewership among males between 18 and 49, but only two hours of prime time Monday thorugh Friday. If he chooses to offer buyers a better deal than CBS, he could be rewarded with added dollar volume.

*Geri Wang, president-sales ABC: Wang has diligently focused on devising an offering that includes ABC programs no matter where they air or stream, a notion that intrigues advertisers. Will it be enough to offset ABC’s ratings concerns?

*Linda Yaccarino, president sales NBCU: This feisty ad-sales exec will push sponsors to take broader ad packages across the company’s entire media portfolio, not just a schedule on NBC or USA. Will advertisers take the bait, or could talks slow if their desires are different?

*Keith Turner, president of sales and marketing, Univision: With this Spanish-language broadcaster trumping NBC in prime time at certain points this year, Turner and topper Randy Falco will be making the pitch that the network should get more volume this year.

*”Sunday Night Fooball”: The king of prime-time broadcast properties commanded a whopping average price of $545,142 for a 30-second spot this season, which handily trumped the usual ad-price champion, Fox’s “American Idol.” But how much more will advertisers be willing to pay?

*Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer, GroupM: This veteran ad buyer supervises massive amounts of ad dollars and in the past has established a beachhead by doing a significant deal with one of the big media conglomerates early in the going. Will he make that play this year?

*Christine Merrifield, president, media investment and activation at MediaVest: With top clients including Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola under her aeigs, Merrifield has the heft in the marketplace to bargain for better prices while exploring new media alternatives, including streaming video.

*“The Walking Dead”: With prices for ad packages going as high as $375,000, this AMC program is being viewed as on par with other top young-skewing programs like “New Girl” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Can AMC continue to draw volume to the program despite its violent milieu?

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