The geeks took center stage at the upfronts last week.
Beyond the nerdy characters populating NBC’s show “Chuck,” CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” and The CW’s “Reaper,” the geeks who work at the networks took on bigger roles, emphasizing the growing importance of digital forms of advertising to ad buyers.
Quincy Smith, president of CBS’s interactive division, took the stage at Carnegie Hall before the network showed off a single new program to ad buyers, illustrating the new prominence digital has achieved in the TV world.
Mr. Smith showed off the way CBS content will be made interactive through a distribution deal with Internet video company Joost. He said tests of CBS’s own online video-distribution network had began.
The networks are embracing interactive programming because marketers like the medium’s ability to give them detailed information on who is watching videos and responding to ads, Mr. Smith said.
“This is highly quantitative, highly geeky stuff-we’re making rocketships out of Sudoku puzzles over here,” he said. “The real excitement comes when we can create ad standards beyond the pre-roll, post-roll, mid-roll, California roll or spicy tuna roll.”
The 2007 upfront marks the first year that all the networks played up the advertising opportunities afforded by the online and mobile incarnations of their shows. At 2006’s upfront presentation-the first after the landmark deal that put ABC shows on Apple’s iTunes store-several networks dipped their toes in the new mediums. Since then, networks have rushed to distribute their shows digitally-and wring revenue from those efforts.
Jo Ann Ross, CBS’s ad sales president, opened the network’s presentation by addressing the audience as an avatar, one of the computer-generated figures that has caught on with Web users who visit sites such as MTV’s “Virtual Laguna Beach.”
ABC played up its digital programs with the new slogan “Start here,” to tell viewers that television is only the first place where viewers can sample its shows and its advertisers’ products.
Digital sales for the networks were expected to grow significantly for the networks during the upfront. Last year, they constituted perhaps 3 percent of commitments, according to media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen at Merrill Lynch.
“It’s a big part of our sales effort,” said Jon Nesvig, president of sales at Fox. “While the absolute dollars attached to the newer platforms is still relatively small, the real effort is that combined sale.”
Mr. Nesvig said what advertisers want is television’s ability to deliver a broad audience and build brands, plus the one-on-one access to consumers afforded by Fox’s Internet properties.
“That’s the model that seems to be working and the model we’ll be pursuing,” he said.
Each of the networks talked up digital during their presentations and unveiled new ideas.
NBC said it would be launching digital extensions for all of its new shows, following on a similar vow it made last year as part of its NBC360 digital campaign.
For example, NBC.com and iVillage, the women’s Web site owned by NBC Universal, are creating an online version of Bonfire Magazine, the publication featured on NBC’s new “Lipstick Jungle” show.
NBC also said it would be launching “The Office 360” in the fall. The interactive offshoot of the show will allow users to pretend they work for Dunder-Mifflin, the paper company where the sitcom is set.
In the interactive “Office” offshoot, online branches of the company will be set up and asked to complete corporate tasks. Those who successfully complete the tasks may be integrated into an on-air episode of the show.
The CW showed off a virtual Upper East Side of Manhattan where its new show “Gossip Girl” is set. Virtual visitors will be able to attend exclusive concerts and screenings online.
The CW Web site also will feature full episodes, social networking for fans of the show, online shopping for fashions shown during the program and a peek at the lead characters’ MP3 players that will allow viewers to buy and download tunes featured.