SBD/May 16, 2011/Media

Labor Uncertainty For NFL, NBA Hangs Over Upfront Presentations

Labor uncertainty in the NFL and NBA is "hanging over this year's upfront presentations," according to Brian Lowry of DAILY VARIETY. ESPN and Turner "will host presentations to advertisers this week, touting their new fall lineups and seeking billions in advance commitments." What remains unknown, given the labor stalemate between NFL players and owners, is "whether TV's most formidable attraction will be around not just to attract eyeballs, but to assist in promoting and launching new series." In addition, the NBA "faces its own potential work stoppage following this year's playoffs." As a result, all networks this week will "toe a rather delicate line, with ESPN, CBS, NBC and Fox all allied with the NFL, and ESPN, TNT and ABC having a sizable interest in the NBA." To date, the networks and the NFL are "seeking to reassure buyers like a cop at a crime scene." Yet having "additional hours to fill, especially for struggling NBC if 'Sunday Night Football' is delayed, is an unappetizing prospect." Lowry noted network execs during the upfront presentations will "try to ignore the elephant in the room, most likely." Thanks to MLB, Fox is the "only network heading into the fall certain at least one of its major sports will suit up next season" (DAILY VARIETY, 5/14).

SPREADING THE FIELD: DAILY VARIETY's Wayne Friedman noted TV's "annual upfront advertising market, which is already poised to grab hefty increases for broadcasters and cable networks, may have a bigger wild card thrown into the mix: more NFL advertising dollars looking for a home." Roughly $2.5B is "spent annually on NFL TV spots on Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN in the third and fourth quarters," so if the "season gets cancelled or even significantly truncated due to the threatened lockout, the bigger question is what happens to intended NFL TV advertising dollars?" Some estimates suggest that $80M of the $2.5B is "spent in August -- where most preseason games run." That number increases to $440M in September, when the NFL regular season begins. Friedman noted "all this is compounded by an already strong TV marketplace -- which looks to peg TV marketers to double-digit price hikes during an upfront market that is estimated to give around $9 billion to the four broadcast nets for their primetime programming and a collective $9 billion for all cable nets for all dayparts." Still, media agency execs believe that the "likelihood is that many marketers will make deals on the assumption that the league will go ahead." But if the "lockout continues, then there are other issues." Initiative Exec VP & Dir of National Broadcast Kris Magel: "For Fox, CBS, ESPN and NBC, they'll have to decide when to give the money back." College football, late-season baseball and "some male-skewing cable networks may be viewed as replacement programming for the NFL." But one ad exec said, "You have to be realistic, not all money is going to get spent" (DAILY VARIETY, 5/14). In N.Y., Stuart Elliott notes the total take for cable channels during upfronts could be around $9-9.2B, a 10-15% increase "from their upfront season last year and close or equal to what the broadcast networks are expected to sell." If cable channels "achieved parity with their broadcast brethren, it would be a first for the television business" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).

AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER: In N.Y., Carter & Vega reported several marketers during the upfronts will be "broadening their focus to those 55 and up, who were largely ignored in most of their media plans until recently." The median audience age for all broadcast networks "has moved upward since 2006." Carter & Vega: "NBC has moved to 50.1, from 48.5; ABC increased to 52.3, from 47.4. Fox, always the youngest network, aged to 45.4, from 41.5. CBS began at 53 and is now at a median age of 56" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/14).

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