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Advertisers lower their expectations

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

At last year’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention Tribune Entertainment’s five ad sales representatives together logged about 45 distinct one-hour meetings on both the Tuesday and the Wednesday of the show. This year will be a lot different, said Clark Morehouse, senior VP, advertiser sales, for Tribune Entertainment Co. in New York.
“I don’t think every one of my guys will have a meeting every hour,” he said. As of mid-December he still planned to send the same number of employees, but he noted that cutting back remained a possibility. “The NATPE convention is changing because it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose anymore,” he said.
Many ad buyers and sellers will still attend the conference, but their presence will be smaller, since their ad-related goals for NATPE have diminished. That’s due in part to changes in the way business is conducted, since programming is sold to stations throughout the year rather than primarily at the convention, and in part to the past year’s economic condition. Still, syndicators and agencies do have some expectations heading into the show.
Most advertising agencies have scaled back their plans to attend the show following the lead of their clients. Syndicators are finding that in many ways they must simply prove themselves at the show.
Mr. Morehouse said one of his missions will be to begin a process to put his company in a better position to do more business in 2002, since last year was a tough one for syndication. That’s why his ad-related goals at this year’s convention will be to show new product to advertisers and to attract more ad dollars from advertisers who want to reach adult males.
Tribune plans to introduce this year a weekly action-oriented show as well as weekday strip “Beyond With James Van Praagh,” featuring the noted psychic. “I have to figure out a way to attract money to my type of programs,” Mr. Morehouse said.
The poor economy and slumping ad market hit syndication more dramatically than other areas of the business, said Fred Dubin, executive VP of national broadcast with Mediaedge: CIA in New York. Cable has become a bigger part of ad budgets while syndication has played a smaller role, he said. And that adds up to Mediaedge sending fewer people to this year’s show. Mr. Dubin himself won’t be there.
“The people we deal with aren’t on the floor. That takes some of the panache out of it,” he said. For the buyers the agency does send, their purpose and that of their clients is more perfunctory than anything else. “I don’t think clients go out looking for anything specifically. Nobody is going to look at a show and say, `This is the next “Oprah” or “Rosie.”’ That is so hard to do,” he said.
Packaged goods companies will still be at the convention in force, but companies for which syndication is a smaller part of the game will likely pass on NATPE, he said.
Initiative Media has sent 10 to 12 people in past years but will probably send anywhere from zero to five this year, said Tim Spengler, executive VP and director of national broadcast in Los Angeles. There are fewer new products, fewer time periods and fewer exciting shows, he said. “All these changes in product change our interest in the convention.”
Nonetheless, NATPE still represents an opportunity for a buyer to find a niche show in the early stages of development that might be just right for a particular client. “I am looking for a diamond in the rough … for either a breakout show or a perfectly tailored show for a certain client,” Mr. Spengler said.
Since most of the distributors visit the agencies a few weeks after the show, there isn’t much reason for a buyer to attend, said Aaron Cohen, executive VP, broadcast, with Horizon Media, who was unsure whether he would attend NATPE. When the studios were on the floor, there was a broader purpose to the show-to learn of developments in other areas such as interactivity and streaming media. That won’t be as easy to do this year, he said.
The show would be more appropriate for advertisers if it were held later in the broadcast year, an idea that has been floated by many in the business, said Bob Cesa, executive VP, advertising sales and cable program sales, Twentieth Television in New York. “All these things have been forced into January,” he said.
However, the timing of the show can work in certain situations, said Peggy Kelly, VP, advertiser services, Clairol, and a NATPE board member. As integrated marketing becomes a more important part of the ad business, that early look at programming can be valuable, she said. “In terms of being too early, it depends on what you’re buying. But if what you’re looking for are deals that take more depth and time to deliver and require more early involvement in programming, it’s a good forum. I don’t think you throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said.
Mr. Cesa said the show is still useful for buyers and advertisers. Why would buyers go? “To talk about syndication, production. Know about all the options,” he said. Twentieth Television’s new properties for 2002 will be off-network shows “Dharma & Greg,” “That ’70s Show” and “The Hughleys” and its first-run talk show “The Rob Nelson Show.”