NBC’s announcement last week that it would start the 2004-05 season earlier than usual is getting the thumbs up from most advertisers. In fact, some said it is something they have long wanted.
“It’s about time,” said Jon Mandel, co-CEO of Grey Global Group’s MediaCom. “What The WB said is right,” he added, referring to the statement the network issued earlier in the week, “We are a 52-week business.”
Jeffrey Zucker, president of the NBC entertainment, news and cable group, told TV critics assembled in Los Angeles that NBC would launch new shows and new episodes of existing shows Aug. 29, immediately after the conclusion of the two-week-long Summer Olympics broadcast from Athens, Greece.
Mr. Zucker said the network wants to take advantage of the promotional power of the Olympics telecasts, which are sure to be highly rated. NBC will also start its Summer 2004 programming earlier than usual. Both moves show more flexibility in how NBC launches and schedules shows.
Advertisers applauded the move. “It’ll help the network to get sampling and avoid the clutter of all the new shows in the fall,” said Lyle Schwartz, senior VP of media research for Mediaedge:cia.
“Some advertisers will benefit from the early start and early end,” said John Rash, senior VP and director of national broadcast for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. “For instance, some soda and beer companies could benefit from fresh programming and potentially higher ratings in the summer months, whereas some other marketers may lose some ratings potential in the spring when they most need it.”
Steve Siskind, executive VP of media and research at 20th Century Fox, said NBC may initially benefit from the early season start, since early September is typically a slow month for national advertising network dollars. Movie companies, such as Fox, might be inclined to spend a bit more to advertise their fall releases with new NBC programming.
Over the long term, Mr. Zucker said, NBC will begin to move away from loading its best programs into the three major sweeps periods-November, February and May -to gain big ratings.
Mr. Zucker noted the sweep periods aren’t as important as in years past, and soon their importance will be diminished even more. In May 2005, he said, Nielsen Media Research plans to have at least 10 major markets up and running with new local people meter technology, where local demographics can be measured year-round. Currently, local demographics are measure during the four sweeps periods, November, February, May and July.
Sweeps periods have traditionally been used to set advertising rates for local stations because that’s when Nielsen calculates the all-important demographics from written diaries from a sample of viewers. National advertisers don’t use these diaries because Nielsen People Meters give year-round national demographic information.
“We have been telling the networks `Stop caring about the sweeps,”’ Mr. Mandel said. “For years people have been introducing shows successfully in July and August.”
“Networks end their season, but advertisers never stop in reaching their customers through television,” Mr. Schwartz said.
At ABC, executives said there are no plans to make premiere dates earlier this fall, but sources there agreed it makes sense to be more flexible about when shows are launched.
The schedule shifts are not likely to impact the upfront ad sales process, which typically takes place in late May/early June. It still gives advertisers and agencies plenty of time to buy time in the upcoming season.