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GUEST QUESTIONS

Upfront Week 2007: Media Buyers Like Shrimp, Debate Whose Is Best

Media buyers had plenty of opinions on this year's crop of Upfront Week presentations and parties. Here are their takes on the networks' big sales pitches.

Fox's packed dance floor

Photo: Mark Yumkas

Every May, a swarm of media buyers, ad execs, talent, and other assorted television-industry types hits New York for Upfront Week, the broadcast networks’ yearly presentations of their fall schedules. In the hope of snagging millions in advertising dollars, the usually hard-sell presentations are star-studded, and often stat-studded. And the parties that follow are staged to wow, with plenty of photo ops with network talent, mountains of shrimp, and free-flowing booze. While both attendees and the press noted some fiscal restraint on the part of the networks this year, the broadcasters weren’t exactly serving Saltines and cold cuts. After all, Advertising Age called Upfront Week a “$9 billion annual event that is the financial pivot of the prime-time TV business.”

NBC kicked off the week at Radio City Music Hall, promising to “skip the song and dance” and get people out in under an hour and a half (they did). CBS showed its wares at Carnegie Hall, with help from CSI: Miami star David Caruso, who was happy to make fun of his on-screen persona. Pushing the multiplatform angle, the net also aired a YouTube video of Caruso’s over-the-top one-liners on CSI and had ad sales president JoAnn Ross address the crowd as an avatar. At Avery Fisher Hall, ABC staged a boffo opening musical number starring the cast of Ugly Betty and wrapped the presentation by giving away a plasma-screen TV (a tie-in to the net’s upcoming show National Bingo Night) and filling the theater with a thunderous marching band. Fox kept it short and sweet, enlisting Keifer Sutherland to pretape a presentation addressing Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori as 24’s Jack Bauer. (“Keep it to an hour. ... You’re on the clock, Mr. President.”) In possibly a record for any upfront presentation, that’s all the network took. (Perhaps it was a mea culpa: Last year’s clocked in at an agonizing three hours.) Among the other networks vying for attention and ad buys were Telemundo, Univision, the CW, ESPN, and Broadband Enterprises.

So how did they do? Did the networks get their money’s worth? Well, our opinions don’t really matter, so we sought out the ones that do: those of the attendees who slosh through the overcrowded week each year. (“If you cut my finger off,” one high-level ad buyer said, “you can count the rings of how many upfronts I’ve been to.”) Here’s what they had to say, sometimes on the record, sometimes under the cover of anonymity, and sometimes as they spoke to another guest, not realizing we were listening.

How were the presentations?
“Everyone did a great job being on time. There was no fluff; they kept it under an hour and a half. They kept it relevant.”
Senior buyer, Universal McCann

“CBS’s [YouTube] mash-up was very funny. It was a good gimmick.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“CBS was on [the multiple digital platform pitch] like white on rice.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“ABC and Fox were the best. They were straightforward and clear about what they were trying to program. ABC was the better show; it had more entertainment to it. They had the marching band.”
Director of media planning, Wieden + Kennedy

Text message to Vicki: “Jerry Seinfeld just came on stage.” Vicki’s text back: “No way!”
Observed over the shoulder at the NBC upfront

“I find that lame. They did that last year.”
Execuive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency, referring to NBC’s Sunday Night Football hosts throwing footballs into the audience

“I suspect that when NBC [presented in under an hour and a half] on Monday, the other networks revamped their programs.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“[ABC’s marching band] was so loud, I put Kleenex in my ears.”
Senior vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“ABC was the most entertaining. The Fray [who played ‘How to Save a Life,’ its song featured on Grey’s Anatomy], the marching band, the Betty thing.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“I loved [Dawn Ostroff of the CW]. How she stayed up in those shoes, I don’t know.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency, referring to the CW president, who wore high heels as she delivered the bulk of the network’s pitch

“CW was the best presentation. The woman who was presenting definitely keeps your attention. They went past my expectations.”
Buyer, MediaVest

“[The CW] had guys walking through the audience saying, ‘Here’s a Jamba Juice.’ It’s not a morning [show] network, but they made the best of the time.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency, referring to the CW’s 11 a.m. presentation

“I was with two men who wanted to sit in the front row because they heard the Pussycat Dolls were [performing at the CW].”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“Tuesday night at 9. Tuesday night at 9.”
Overheard immediately following the CW presentation, an enthusiastic reference to the time slot of the network’s new show Reaper

“I gave it to my buyer. What am I going to do with it—carry it around all day?”
Guest leaving the CW presentation, in reference to the bags made of recycled billboards found on every seat

“[ESPN’s] was a theatrical event. It was odd. It was different. It was theater in the round.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency, on ESPN’s upfront presentation

“I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek attitude every network had this year.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

How were the parties?
“Everyone in the industry says [Fox] is the best party.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“I love the Fox hedge. They take it everywhere. When we were at the national championships, they had the Fox hedge.”
Overheard at the Fox after-party, looking at a giant topiary in the form of the network’s logo

“Fox has the best party, by the sheer fact they’re the last one. They do it right. Everyone’s just really here to party.”
Senior buyer, Universal McCann

“Everything is beautiful, stylish, and hip [at the Fox party]. I love it.”
Senior vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“These are pretty nice bathrooms for trailer bathrooms.”
Junior media buyer, MediaShare, in the Fox bathrooms

“My least favorite was [CBS at] Tavern on the Green. Obviously, the rain didn’t help.”
Senior buyer, Universal McCann

“[CBS] is the worst party ever. It’s overcrowded; you can’t move. It’s at an old-fogy place—the venue matches the demo.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“[The parties] need bigger places where senior people can have quiet conversations.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“Nobody parties at the NBC party because [the Rink at Rockefeller Center] is a horrible venue. They’re cheap because they own it, and it’s overcrowded.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“You’re at Rockefeller Center; it’s usually a beautiful evening. [The NBC party] is a magnetic moment, because you’re looking up and it’s spectacular.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

How was the food?
“[Fox has] sushi chefs working their asses off.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“They have awesome shrimp at ABC. The shrimp here [at Fox] sucks.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“Best shrimp was at NBC. It was fresh.”
Senior buyer, Universal McCann

“ABC had unbelievable food. Plantain-crusted grouper, grilled radicchio. It’s the kind of food you go to a high-end restaurant for lunch and pay $25 for.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“Everything [at CBS’s party] at Tavern on the Green is great as far as food.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“NBC did have those really good French fries.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

Does any of this affect who gets your business?
“We have specific demos to target. No matter how good the shrimp is, we’re going to buy what we’re going to buy.”
Senior buyer, Universal McCann

“They can throw the best party in the world, but if the programming doesn’t deliver, we aren’t buying it.”
Vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“No. Absolutely not.”
Executive vice president for planning and buying, global media agency

“It’s about seeing the pilots. The proof is in the pudding.”
Director of media planning, Wieden + Kennedy

“A party is not going to affect if I’m going to give them more money. If Fox didn’t have a party, it’s not like I’m going to take them off a big buy.”
National broadcast buyer, Mediacom