Friday, May 21, 2010

The Upfront PR Blitz

The TV and Cable industry have some great PR machines behind them.  Based on all the buzz surrounding this year's upfront market, you would think TV advertising is absolutely indispensable and that those marketers who don't commit upfront will be at a significant disadvantage.  Happily, for the networks, the more this sentiment is embraced, the higher the prices.

It is fascinating that in the most electrifying, disruptive media environment in history, where consumers are adapting to new technologies at breathtaking speed (who isn't buying a digital reader, watching TV shows on their computer or using their phones in ways unimaginable just 6 months ago?), the headlines are focused on a 50+ year old ad marketplace.

I think some of the hype is justified.  An Ad Age column this week titled "In Praise of the Original Social Media: Good Ol' Television" points out that most social media chatter is about TV shows.

"It's amazing how often we use new media to talk about what old media is up to. And of all the old media, TV maintains the tightest grip on our collective consciousness. Pay attention to what's really being talked about en masse on Twitter (and Facebook and elsewhere in the social-media sphere) and chances are pretty good it relates to what's on TV at the moment somewhere in the world, or what was on TV last night."

True, to some extent.  But it's really just a few dozen or so shows (and entertainment and sporting events) that are generating all the talk.  Most TV programming is generating very little talk, much less viewing.  The goal of the networks during the upfront is to package the hot with the not, which is going to meet more and more resistance from advertisers in a media landscape with so many other options to reach their customers.

(And there is plenty of "talk" about content unrelated to broadcast and cable television. See below.)

Another columnist, in the same issue of Ad Age, reflected this sentiment and was more cautious in his prediction for this year's upfront.

"If they (the advertisers) can't find the ratings they need in the preferred places, they will look hard to find those ratings somewhere else."

And in many instances, they already are.  Toyota, one of the largest TV advertisers, spent a fair amount on TV to launch their new Sienna Mini Van.  But you would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn't think they got as much value, if not more, from "The Sienna Family." a hilarious collection of web videos that have become a viral sensation.  My personal favorite : "The Swagger Wagon."

There is no doubt that television advertising is essential to support an automotive new model launch, but it should be alarming to network executives that successful campaigns like "The Sienna Family" are being launched with absolutely no connection to the traditional large entertainment and media engines.

Programs like this are a clear reflection of marketers moving key executives into digital and social media roles.

Again, from the Ad Age column:

"The appointment of M.T. Carney as Disney Studio's new head of marketing was not just interesting because of the inspired choice to go with an outsider; it signaled Disney Studios' direction to break away from the traditional advertising (read: TV-driven) model. The studio's chairman, Rich Ross, in announcing Carney's appointment, described her as an exec who "can market a product across multiple platforms and has firsthand knowledge of new media and its effectiveness in reaching consumers."

And one of the marketing community's most visible and quoted execs, Jim Farley at Ford, is quite vocal about his company's decreased reliance on television.

So, another upfront and another round of chatter about why this year it will be different.