Turner’s Lazarus sees life in upfront

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

This year, the upfront is a contact sport, with the big sellers elbowing each other for position in a marketplace that most likely will be up from last year’s disaster but still far below the bounty of the millennium year.
So perhaps it is particularly fitting that Mark Lazarus, who has been president of Turner Sports since 1999, will be entering the upfront ring for the first time this year as president of Turner Entertainment Group sales and marketing for Turner Broadcasting Sales.
In this capacity he oversees all domestic sales and marketing for TBS Superstation, TNT, Cartoon Network and Turner South. The Turner cable networks will take in approximately 25 percent of all upfront cable revenues this year, and Mr. Lazarus is expected to get the selling-season battle under way with a major cross-platform advertising deal that will be announced at Turner Entertainment Sales’ upfront presentation on Monday.
Upfront sales for the industry overall will be up around 5 percent on a dollar basis compared with 2001, Mr. Lazarus predicted. The cross-platform deal will demonstrate that TNT and TBS, the two biggest general-entertainment cable networks, are “each a substitute for broadcast rating points [and that] together they’re a behemoth,” he said.
“If you look at the lower third of broadcast prime-time schedules, [they] deliver about a 2 [rating] against adults 18 to 49,” he said. “That is not a significant amount of reach. … The big cable networks, and specifically TBS and TNT, can act as a substitute.”
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are in a “spiral of lower ratings [and] of questionable programming environments,” Mr. Lazarus said. Agency people “want to put down a base” with TNT and TBS to “improve [their] leverage with the broadcast networks,” he said. “We believe that that’s a very smart strategy.”
As for Turner’s cable competitors, “When you look underneath the hood of some of our competitors, they are not what they seem because they have single things driving their averages,” Mr. Lazarus said, referring to Viacom’s TNN (World Wrestling Federation’s “Raw”) and News Corp.’s FX (“The Shield”). By contrast, TBS and TNT “don’t count on a single program or program type. By that I mean things like wrestling, … risque programming that’s on some of our competitors, that’s losing popularity fast.”
Mr. Lazarus said one of TBS’s selling points is its quality sitcom block of “Seinfeld,” “Drew Carey,” “Home Improvement” and “Friends,” that leads into prime time.
Hallmark and Lifetime’s viewers remain older, he said, while the big Turner networks’ viewers are getting younger and richer. “We … have higher and more-disposable income [viewers], and more upscale audience, than A&E and Discovery,” he added.
That’s an argument designed to attract computer and luxury-automobile advertisers-the categories with which Turner wants to improve its performance this year. And while cable costs per thousand are significantly lower than broadcast’s, that too is changing, he said. Again, the model comes from sports and news.
“If you look at sports CPMs across broadcast and cable, they are the most similar of any daypart, and news as well. CNN gets similar CPMs, if not higher, than the broadcast networks. In sports they are similar against certain programs.”
A recent Magna Global forecast predicts that regular-season big-ticket sports will migrate to cable when present contracts end, but postseason games and big championship events will remain on broadcast, while rights dollars will come down. Mr. Lazarus generally agreed, but went further than the Magna forecast.
“If you look at Major League Baseball, and … the NBA, that trend has already started,” he said. For regular-season baseball, “Fox has a handful of games but ESPN has a significant schedule, and we have a significant schedule with Braves on TBS, which is a national contract. … It will be true of the new NBA deal. There’s only a modest increase in what the NBA took [for rights].” Professional hockey already is a cable-ready sport, he said.
As for big-ticket sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics, when present contracts end, “I think they’ll be within the big broadcast conglomerates and shared among both cable and broadcast,” Mr. Lazarus said.