CBS Throws Upfront Gauntlet

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Entertainment, News and Cable Group, refused Friday to reply to CBS’s predictions that it will challenge NBC for the position of market leader in the 2004-05 upfront.
Mr. Zucker, speaking during a press briefing in New York, instead reiterated that he is confident NBC will finish first in the 18 to 49 demo in every daypart this season and will have to replace very little of its lineup next season. He also took the opportunity to note that the April 15 finale of “The Apprentice,” which according to Nielsen drew some 27.6 million viewers and 18-month-high demographics for NBC, exceeded the network’s expectations.
NBC’s traditional briefings in New York and Los Angeles in advance of the upfront generally are off-the-record and focus on programs in development. CBS’s move, to hold an on-the-record meeting with members of the press earlier last week, was more unusual.
On Tuesday CBS predicted that for the first time in some 20 years it will challenge NBC’s upfront position. The network also expects to take money from competitors, including cable.
“We are the future,” CBS President Leslie Moonves said at a press breakfast designed to “set the table” for the upfront selling frenzy that will kick off in mid-May. He predicted CBS would get the highest cost-per-thousand increases (double digits) because CBS:
* Has the most stable lineup, in which no more than four hours will be new (assuming “Everybody Loves Raymond” comes back for one final season, a negotiation Mr. Moonves hopes to have wrapped up shortly). “We’ve already won next season,” Mr. Moonves said. “Where we have needs, we have lead-ins.” In addition, the third edition of the “CSI” franchise, “CSI: New York,” arrives soon at CBS. Mr. Moonves predicts “CSI: New York” will be the biggest freshman performer next season.
* Is the leader in total viewers and the 25 to 54 demo, which the network insists is “the audience most coveted by advertisers,” and is running only 0.2 of a ratings point behind NBC in the 18 to 49 demo.
* Has the audience with “the best socioeconomic profile,” if advertisers are looking for real upscale viewers. Executive VP of Research and Planning David Poltrack declared the upscale 18 to 49 category, in which NBC has touted its leadership, “the most bogus statistic ever” because it includes dependent young adults, which Mr. Moonves characterized as a “Daddy, buy me a car” group. And Daddy doesn’t buy the kids a Lexus, Mr. Moonves said.
Added Mr. Poltrack, “The buying power in this country is absolutely concentrated in 35 to 64,” and brand switching is greatest in the same group. He said CBS is asking Nielsen for a network-by-network breakdown of dependent young adults in upper-income households.
Network Sales President Jo Ann Ross said CBS is breathing down NBC’s neck in key retail categories on Thursday night, now the richest night of the TV week, and has been dubbed a “must-buy” on Thursday night for movie advertisers. She also said the network has “a huge opportunity” on Wednesdays and has improved Sundays with “Cold Case” and a “revived” Sunday night movie that brings in broad demos.
She said CBS is seeing growth among upscale men targeted by low-carb beers. She also cited growth in the financial sector, especially on Sundays, and the tech sector (Thursdays and Mondays). She predicted that “a lot of money is going to be placed” against high-definition TV advertising.
“Any growth in cable is not coming from CBS,” she said.
“Cable has done a very good job of telling you that cable is doing better than it is,” Mr. Moonves said.