Posted by: Burth Helm on May 19, 2009
On Monday Fox kicked off 2009’s upfront week, the annual event here in New York City where the major television networks present their Fall schedule to advertisers. The News Corp.-owned network made a very conservative pitch, introducing a small handful of new shows while emphasizing the continued success of its hits like American Idol. (You can find a more detailed rundown of the programming news here).
In a nutshell, here is the network’s pitch to advertisers: Forget other media, forget the weak economy, Fox is still strong and still the best place for your advertising messages. After a short introduction by 24 star Kiefer Sutherland, Fox rolled sales head Jon Nesvig on stage to brush aside internet video and trample cable — the only part of television where audience numbers are still growing.
Nesvig, in his boxy charcoal suit, a blue button-down shirt, a bland patterned tie and neatly parted silver hair, is the M4 Sherman tank of old media. “99% of video is still watched on television,” rumbled Nesvig. “TV viewers are watching over 1 hour of television ads per day.” He then declared that Cable’s growth was overblown, and used slide after slide to prove it – it’s all due to cable news growth, which is all because of the election year, he argued.
“You can hear the defensiveness in their comments,” observed Guy Beach at Fox’s cocktail party after the show. Fox is one of the few networks that didn’t cancel or scale back its party, which it holds every year at Wollman Rink at Central Park. If offered the usual junky comfort food (cheese burgers, tacos, ice cream sandwiches) and ample booze, but because the unseasonably cold weather and weekend rain, the party was inside a giant tent which smelled dank and musty thanks to the rain-soaked carpets (the dance floor, slippery from water seeping from underneath, was off-limits and guarded by Fox security). Beach, of media buyer Universal McCann, said he thought Fox’s approach – sticking with its hits in the face of so much flux in the industry, probably made sense. “It makes business sense, even if it didn’t make for a hugely entertaining presentation.”
As negotiations get under way, media buyers I spoke to seem like they’re gearing up to employ an “empty pockets” strategy amid the bleak economy. “The money’s just not there,” said Aaron Cohen of Horizon Media. “Everyone’s trying to feel out their budgets” says Antony Young, CEO of Optimedia. “What have you got vs. what you can afford.”