In Depth

Ad Buyers Face Strike Aftermath

Scramble Is on to Place Spots in Altered Network Schedules

As original scripted series return to the broadcast networks, media buyers will be watching closely to make sure their clients get spots in the programming they bought in last year’s upfront.

Over the past few months, as fresh episodes of series have vanished due to the Writers Guild of America strike, buyers have been working to get their clients in appropriate replacement programming. The goal was to make sure that commercials are still reaching the number of viewers the networks guaranteed. Now buyers mostly will be returning to their original plans.

“Everybody’s scrambling now. Everyone’s trying to figure out what the schedules are going to be,” said Steve Lanzano, chief operating officer of media agency PHD U.S.

“Before, after and during the strike, we really look to keep the integrity intact on what was bought in the upfront. That hasn’t really changed,” said Ed Gentner, senior VP and group director at MediaVest. “The bottom line is you want to make sure that, when you look at your schedule as a whole, you are getting what you paid for and the integrity is intact.”

When a high-rated show, such as ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” unexpectedly went into reruns, ad buyers had to negotiate adjustments because of the strike. In some cases, they needed commercials in other shows to make up for viewer shortfalls. In other cases, clients wanted to be in different shows.

For shows returning to the airwaves, advertisers who originally had ad units in a program presumably would still have them, Mr. Gentner said, although he noted it’s not always so clear-cut.

Originals Airing Later
Network executives said that because of the strike, there may actually be more original episodes of series airing in April and May than was contemplated during upfront negotiations.

Most of the spots in those original episodes will go to advertisers who scheduled ads in what they thought were reruns, said Mike Shaw, president of sales and marketing, ABC.

“Those are shows we already sold,” he said.

In some cases, those extra originals may give advertisers extra ratings points, representing a windfall. In other cases they may reduce the number of make-goods the networks owe advertisers because ratings have been down this season. That drop is partly due to the strike and partly due to the ongoing audience erosion the networks have been facing.

Another factor will be whether viewers will return to the networks when the original episodes of series return.

“We are going to have to revise our estimates given the disrupted and highly altered schedule,” said Shari Brill, VP of programming at media buyer Carat. “The landscape is very different versus what was announced last May.”

But an advertiser that pinned its hopes to a big audience in the finale of “Desperate Housewives” may be in luck.

“The show has experienced dramatic live audience falloff versus the prior year, which has nothing to do with the strike,” Ms. Brill said. “Once the show resumes, fans will be back. The show was very strong creatively until it was forced into hiatus.”