This week of TV "upfront" ad sales is arguably the most important week of the year for the networks -- they're aiming to sell 75 percent of their annual ads. Last year, that amounted to about 9 billion dollars. This year, it's expected to be roughly flat -- that's what the analysts are telling me. But considering the fact that ratings are down from last year, the price advertisers are paying per ratings point is actually inching up!
One trend this year: "product integration." It's the holy grail for advertisers; it's smoother and savvier than product placement (lots of Coke cups sitting on the American Idol set). My favorite example of product integration is in NBC's "The Office," which gave Staples a key role in two episodes of the show about a rival paper company. It was all so tongue-in-cheek it worked.
And NBC's "30 Rock" had a deal with Snapple. But the shows comedians winked at the Snapple deal so often, viewers weren't condescended to (oh what a coincidence, another bottle of Snapple!). And it actually worked.
Another hot trend is show sponsorship, which takes product integration to the next level. ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" circles around Sears, which it surely pays dearly for.
An estimated 15 percent of American homes have DVR, which means advertisers are more desperate than ever to keep viewers from fast-forwarding through their pricey 30-second spots. Desperation breeds innovation. The latest solution is called a "content wrap" -- advertisers create content to "wrap" around a brand message.
The idea is to get consumers interested in the content interrupting their favorite show. Some advertisers are telling stories, serialized in five mini-segments over the course of an hour-long show... Jerry Seinfeld is putting together content wraps for his upcoming "Bee Movie" -- no one will skip what looks like Jerry Seinfeld doing standup comedy. If it doesn't feel like an ad, viewers are much more likely to absorb the advertiser's message.