Court TV’s guerrilla pre-upfront theater

Apr 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Upfront is a serious, high-stakes business, so why are advertising agency buyers laughing at Court TV?
Because this year, the marketers and sales executives from Court TV have been using humor to distinguish their network during this crowded pre-upfront period, when agency executives have little choice but to sit through literally dozens of network advertising sales presentations that, as often as not, rely on mind-numbingly detailed charts and numbers.
“We’re getting two a day,” said Arthur Schreibman, executive VP and director, national broadcast, Initiative Media, North America.
“Forty for cable, nine for syndication and then another 10 from the networks,” all in the space of just six weeks, said Peter Butchen, senior VP, group director, national television, Initiative Media, New York.
Those Initiative executives and approximately two dozen of their buyer colleagues recently gathered around a conference table on the 21st floor of a midtown Manhattan building to hear from Court TV. They expected to hear about trial coverage and forensics-themed programming. Instead, they hooted, laughed and applauded their way through Court TV’s brief and witty presentation, agreeing that it was unlike any of the others they had seen. For one thing, the 25-minute presentation was much shorter than the hour- to two-hour-long network presentations that the agency executives were accustomed to seeing.
“Abnormal,” was how Mr. Schreibman described the Court presentation. What was normal, Mr. Butchen said, was for the Initiative buyers to have to listen to “people who don’t know how to sell” and “come up and show 10,000 numbers.”
It started out as a sober presentation by Charlie Collier, Court TV’s executive VP for advertising sales, in which he assured the Initiative buyers, “You can run on Court TV and never, never run a unit next to court coverage,” and told them his network’s audience had a female skew. But when two “cops” burst into the room and confronted a female “buyer,” Court’s presentation quickly turned into a not-ready-for-prime-time-CPMs skit:
“Det. Sandy Iskowitz, NYMBPD,” the older of the two cops blared.
Some of the mostly young buyers around the table smiled or snickered; others just looked startled.
“Dat’s New Yawk Media Buying Police Department, Cable Division,” the cop growled in a thick outer-borough accent.
“My partner and I have some questions that pertain to the current climate of media buying,” the ersatz cop said, adding in an aside, “The following investigation will not include adult language or partial nudity.”
Of course, the two NYMBPD officers, both the tough older guy and his partner, a dumb-but-eager guy, and the Initiative buyer, a primly dressed young woman in a tailored suit and spectacles, were actors. And they zinged one-liners even as they hammered home the basic Court ad-sales arguments.
“We’re investigating you for reckless buying on three counts,” said the cop to the “buyer.”
“What is your problem, besides the hair and the wardrobe and the overacting?” the buyer shot back.
“More tension in here than Joan Rivers’ face,” the younger “dumb cop” muttered.
“Let me guess,” snapped the buyer. “Your last job was working for Arthur Andersen.”
The dumb cop drew himself up. “I was director of estimates at ABC,” he replied, to much laughter.
The presentation ended with a round of applause. While the formal May upfront presentations by the networks, in which they unveil their new lineups, are glittering show-biz affairs, bringing entertainment values to a private upfront briefing is exceedingly rare. In fact, Mr. Schreibman said that in all his years of attending such private upfront presentations, this the first time one had ended with applause.
“The standard joke is that almost every network that comes in finds a way to claim that they’re No. 1,” he said.
To which Mr. Collier quickly replied, “Of all the networks with a tennis reference in their name, we’re No. 1.”
“For sport, we pick these things apart,” Mr. Butchen said of the presentations agencies are forced to sit through.
Then what would be the value of this particular presentation?
The Court TV presentation was valuable in terms of the good will it engendered, Mr. Schreibman said.
And what of the charts and the detailed data on which so many of the traditional data-centric presentations to advertising agencies focus? “We depend on our own research,” Mr. Schreibman said.
So far, in addition to Initiative Media, the presentation has been given at Bates, McCann, Optimedia and Mediacom. For certain advertisers, Court TV will dispense with the theatrics and come in with charts and numbers, Mr. Collier said. Court TV expects to make 30 to 40 presentations during the pre-upfront period.