Pod Position Battle Heats Up

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A battle between buyers and some cable networks over whether it is commercials or promos that get the prized first position in commercial breaks might intensify during this year’s upfront.

“We’re going to make pod positioning a very big nut for us this year,” said Andy Donchin, head of national broadcast for Carat USA. “We’re trying to get people to stick through the commercial breaks and hopefully get people to watch our commercials.”

Typical ad deals call for every advertiser to receive an equitable share of the prime positions in commercial pods over the course of a schedule. Studies have shown that viewers best recall the first and last commercials in a break. But networks don’t count promos when calculating whether the distribution is equitable.

“We want to get the beachfront property, which is the ‘A’ position. Obviously a lot of [the networks] are keeping them for themselves”-especially cable networks, Mr. Donchin said.

Mr. Donchin said his agency is “going to reward the networks that give us equitable to more-than-equitable position, and we’re going to penalize the networks that can’t give us equitable position.”

Two cable network executives declined to discuss the issue publicly, but said their networks were adjusting their formats to put more commercials in prime spots within commercial pods. At an upfront presentation in Chicago last week, Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN and ABC Sports consumer marketing and sales, told buyers and clients, “We don’t put promos in the ‘A’ position of our commercial pods.”

Media IQ’s Mike Lotito, whose company tracks the position of commercials within a pod, said eight to 10 cable networks have made major changes in the proportion of first- or last-position spots that go to customers. But, he said, there’s been no movement at another 20 networks.

“The networks say it’s part of the programming, but the consumer-the guy watching TV-doesn’t differentiate between a promo and a commercial,” Mr. Lotito said. “It’s a break in the programming.”

Other ad buyers said the pod position is very important to them, but stopped short of saying it would have a major effect on their buys in this upfront.

“Everyone’s aware of this, but I don’t think there’s good enough systems in place to execute those as guarantees,” said Peter Gardiner, partner and chief media officer for ad agency Deutsch. “It’s an important issue, but a soft issue.”