In Depth

Guest Commentary: An Invitation to Advertisers, From Your Pals at the Networks

By Brian Steinberg

TO: Our advertisers
FROM: CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC and the CW
RE: This year's TV upfront

You've been singing the same song for months: Money is tight. You want price rollbacks. You've got no reason to put down cash early when scatter looks so cheap and is so readily available. So, yeah, we realize this upfront is going to be prolonged and you'll use non-broadcast media as a bargaining chip.

But here's how we will once again get you to fork over a majority of your ad dollars to TV: We're going to be flexible this year. Need to hold some cash in reserve? Go ahead--we'll wait. Need to make a case to the CFO about why it costs so much to sponsor next year's "Lost" finale? Take your time. We'll still do business with you. Just keep in mind: If the economy starts to rise, so, too, will our prices. Not that we're admitting to discounting to start with. And while you're thinking about it, here are some things to ponder.

You need us, and we know you do.

You really need to speak to our Thursday-night audiences to help goose your movie openings and weekend sales. You'd better reserve some of our ad time now for holiday pitches. We've got the scale no one else has. And for all the talk of metrics in other media, and all our own musings on measurement, the bottom line is we both know nothing moves product like TV. Oh, and by the way, doesn't it stand to reason that our audiences, hoping to conserve cash just like you, are going to stay at home and watch even more of our programming in the weeks ahead?

We'll make some concessions.

Even though TV is a mass medium, you've been crying out for a range of stuff that plays to specific demos and psychographics. We get that. You want to latch on to specific episodes, programs, audiences. And we've been giving it to you--well, at least a little bit. But now we're really going to crank it up (well, just a little bit more). And no, we're not talking Web video.

Were you listening to Fox Broadcasting's Jon Nesvig? He made the point in the best upfront of the week, talking up limited-availability opportunities, such as this fall's "Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live" and an interactive "Simpsons" scavenger hunt during which characters and "Simpsons" references will be tucked into Fox shows, promos and, yes, commercials.

You heard how Subway saved "Chuck" by talking to NBC about stepping up its presence in the show, where it has already had some rather intrusive appearances. "Chuck" won't be back until 2010, and who knows what will happen to its fan base in the meantime, but isn't this the specialized kind of stuff you people say you're asking for?

It's sort of like a magazine publisher telling you about a special themed issue coming out months from now. There's only so much space, and the chance won't come up again, so you'd better get your money down. By the way, we're not like a magazine publisher, so get that idea out of your heads.

You're making us work harder.

Instead, fill your mind with this: This stuff isn't easy for us to do. We're a mass medium. We're set up so that your messages hit the greatest number of people. We take your ads and fling them around the schedule so lots of people see them and they make an impression on weary consumers. We aren't really prepared to create customized ads for each and every one of you in each and every one of our shows. This stuff takes months and months of work.

We know you're hurting, however, so we'll try to do our best (and let's be honest, when ABC--known among you folks for being a little stiff-necked when it comes to product integrations--lets the Enterprise from "Star Trek" fly though the O in the title sequence of "Lost," it's obvious we're more than open to this kind of thing). But it's going to cost a little more--OK, a lot more--than usual.

You don't really have anywhere else to go for broad reach.

But let's not fight. You need mass delivery. We need your money. There's got to be a way to get you to the table. The door is open, and we're pretty sure you're going to walk through it before Labor Day rolls around.

Brian Steinberg is TV editor of Advertising Age.