Shrinking network ratings and changing advertising models mean the television upfronts are becoming a different game each year. In an attempt to keep readers up to speed, advertising industry trade Mediaweek held a conference featuring panels of television executives, advertisers, and editors for a crowd of almost 200 on Tuesday at the Time-Life Building.
The Upfront Conference, a combination of previous Mediaweek events Cable Up! and TV Upfront Live, was the magazine's first meeting of this kind in three years. Editors saw a need to revive the template late last year when reports started emerging about the largely disappointing fall 2008 television season. “We wanted to bring this back last fall when we started seeing a real downturn in the marketplace.” said Mediaweek editor in chief and associate publisher Michael Burgi. “Reports in the fourth quarter showed the television industry was suffering from similar problems as the rest of the economy. We knew that this upfront marketplace would really be one worth analyzing.”
Burgi worked closely with Rachel Williams, director of research and programming at Mediaweek parent company Nielsen Business Media, who was charged with planning the conference and filling the panels with speakers. The nine hours of programming included general managers from cable networks such as AMC and Discovery, ad sales executives from companies including Comcast and Google, and Mediaweek staffers. Marc Berman, an editor and “ratings guru,” even offered a night-by-night, network-by-network analysis of which shows were working and where there would likely be changes in the fall. To get questions from the audience, the conference used 4info mobile technology to allow attendees to text them directly to the projection screen behind the stage.
To alleviate some costs of the event—though attendees paid between $300 and $500 per ticket—Mediaweek secured sponsors in the Cinema Advertising Council, Telemundo, and Yahoo. The three partners lent their names to networking breaks, lunch, and the concluding reception.
Still, the magazine knew that cost might prohibit many from attending the event, which was somewhat smaller in scale than previous upfront-related conferences. “There's no denying that people aren't attending as many events these days,” Burgi said. “For people not at the conference, we're maintaining constant coverage in the magazine and on the Web.” In fact, much of the content from the conference will eventually make its way to Adweek Media's new dedicated site for upfront coverage.