Cable Capitalizes on Shifting Audiences

Apr 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The prognostications are coming in, the scatter market has been robust and the outlook is strong for this year’s cable upfront marketplace.
With ratings and share continuing to decline for the broadcast networks, more money is likely shifting into cable, which continues to add original programming that is resonating with audiences, exemplified by blockbuster shows such as Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and TNT’s “The Closer” and critical favorites like AMC’s “Mad Men.”
The scatter market is up 30%-40% over last year, according to one top cable network advertising executive, and that foretells a healthy upfront.
For USA Networks, newly crowned as the No. 1 cable network, the results are in after upfront presentations in late March and early April in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
“We are thinking about the brand as the No. 5 network overall, and USA as a top entertainment brand, and that was reinforced by the enthusiasm that greeted us at our upfronts,” said Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of original programming for USA Networks. “One thing I noted at the upfront in L.A. was the really wonderful collection of talent we have, like Tony Shalhoub, Dule Hill, Debra Messing and many young, new stars. It wasn’t that long ago we had one or two shows, and now we have six scripted series on the air this year.”
Mr. Wachtel said he and other executives—including Bonnie Hammer, president of cable entertainment and cable studios at NBCU, Chris McCumber, executive vice president of marketing, digital and brand strategy, and Steve Mandala, executive VP of cable ad sales at NBCU—were pleased with advertiser response to their products.
“It was an embrace of USA as a quality destination,” Mr. Wachtel said. “It was really a sense of recognition, of ‘Look how far they’ve traveled. That’s really a place we want to be.’ That’s what it’s about when you’re talking to the audience, advertisers and affiliates. If you sit back, you’ll lose position. We’re not about being complacent and relaxing—we’re about moving forward. It’s important also to the creative community to have the reputation as being a quality destination.”
USA is focusing on the interplay between the brand and original programming. Its signature series, “Monk,” stars Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award winner Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk and will celebrate its 100th episode in its upcoming seventh season. The program garnered a series-high 6.8 million viewers for the Feb. 22 season finale.
The network’s new original series, “In Plain Sight,” starring Mary McCormack as a federal marshal working in the witness protection program, premieres in June.
“It is a unique take on a familiar idea. There has not been a series set in the world of witness protection,” said Mr. Wachtel. “If you’re a marshal, you are as undercover as any of your clients. It’s a fresh way of looking into the dynamic differences between work and home, and it will tap into a social metaphor that people will recognize in Mary. Her family thinks she’s a glorified meter maid, but she’s getting shot at every day.”
For the first time, Turner Entertainment Networks is holding its upfront at the same time as the broadcast networks—on May 14 at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom—where the company will roll out a huge slate of original programming for TNT, TBS and TruTV.
“Clients can look at us as a prime replacement for broadcast prime time, while delivering identical rating points and identical reach, at a more efficient price point,” said Linda Yaccarino, executive VP, Turner Entertainment ad sales. “It’s very different this year because we have less prime-time hours and more original—a big change for Turner and for clients.”
Ms. Yaccarino said it’s a little too early to call the market, but indicators are strong. “Considering that viewing hours are greater than ever before, coupled with the contraction of ratings driven by broadcast’s decline, it is creating a scenario for big networks that could just add to the consideration of advertisers to move more money from broadcast into cable,” she said. “We think the upfront market will be a healthy one.”
Supply and Demand
Even with current market volatility, consumer packaged goods are expected to be a strong spend. “It’s a smarter game for a marketer,” said Ms. Yaccarino. “There’s a lot of pressure on to save money on advertising, to get more for the buck, and to invest more in original programming is a smarter way to go and more efficient. What’s fueling the marketplace is the continued contraction of ratings on broadcast. It’s all about supply and demand. Demand is healthy but supply is lower, and that is going to put pressure on price.”
TNT’s acclaimed original series “The Closer” and “Saving Grace” will be joined by new titles including “Raising the Bar,” “Leverage” and “Truth in Advertising.”
On TBS, returning original comedy series include “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” “The Bill Engvall Show” and “My Boys.”
TruTV (formerly Court TV) is ramping up with at least six new series joining a slate that includes the signature original series “Forensic Files.”
For Lifetime Television, the big news is the acquisition of “Project Runway,” slated to arrive in November, although it is tied up in a lawsuit with the Weinstein Co. and Bravo, where it currently airs. Meanwhile, Lifetime’s hit “Army Wives” returns in June. Other marquee programming includes the original movies “The Tenth Circle,” “Murder in Sin City” and “True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet,” all slated for summer.
Lifetime also greenlit a second season of its rookie makeover show “How to Look Good Naked” and expanded it to an hour. Susanne Daniels, Lifetime’s president of entertainment, recently told TelevisionWeek the show is a success because “it shows women they should accept and even flaunt their healthy bodies, whatever shape or type they are.”
Nickelodeon saw a strong upfront across its five children’s networks, with new programs including the dance show “Dance on Sunset,” music-based live-action comedy “One 4 All,” environmental campaign “The Big Green Help” and animated series “The Mighty B!” as well as Nickelodeon’s first original family prime-time TV movie, “Gym Teacher: The Movie.” Returning shows include “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “The Fairly OddParents,” “Back at the Barnyard” and “The Backyardigans.”
“More and more advertisers are looking to reach the family through Nickelodeon,” Jim Perry, Nickelodeon executive VP, 360 brand sales, recently told TelevisionWeek. “It’s very impactful to reach children and parents together, and there is a lot of co-viewing going on. Advertisers also realize kids are very brand-savvy, have their own disposable income and influence family decisions on automotive and vacation.”
At MTV, ratings have been on the rise on the strength of semi-reality shows such as “The Hills” and competition programs like “Making the Band,” “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila” and Randy Jackson’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.” The network last month announced a 10-episode series, tentatively titled “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF,” slated for the fourth quarter.
“It’s undeniable that the world is always talking about Paris Hilton, and the same could be said about MTV,” Brian Graden, president of entertainment at MTV Networks Music Channels, recently told TelevisionWeek. “Paris is one of the most searched icons on the Web and has been the focus of everyone’s attention, from TMZ to Forbes. Now MTV will reveal the life of Paris, turn her fans into friends and see what it takes to get close to one of the world’s most well-known personalities.”

One Comment

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