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Writers' Strike Changing "The Sell" Of TV Advertising

Friday, 25 Jan 2008 | 3:09 PM ET
CNBC.com

For decades, TV ad time has been sold the very same way: In May, the networks present their new pilots to advertisers, who buy "upfront" ad time, months in advance of the new TV season. And the new TV season always started in the fall, because that's when car advertisers wanted to push their new products. A kinda bizarre reason to structure a whole industry.

Now, thanks to the writers' strike shutting down TV production, pilot season has been thrown off, and it's looking like the "upfronts" won't happen--a dramatic change to an entrenched industry. This could be a great opportunity for the TV networks to extricate themselves from an incredibly inefficient system: everyone fighting for the same talent when producing the pilots, and the same eyeballs when they all debut at the same time.

Yesterday at Davos, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said this upheaval provides a great opportunity to reevaluate the system--especially when it comes to the amount of pilots they produce. You can bet that all the networks are looking at this as an opportunity to slash costs--more reality, fewer pilots.

I was hearing lots of talk that the advertising buyers would HATE losing the week of "upfront" fun. I'm not just talking about the wining and dining--though there's plenty. I'm talking about the fact that the "upfronts" are an easy way for the ad buyers to make most of their ad buys all at once and organize their spending plans.

But, surprise, surprise, a survey of big media buyers (from Starcom, to Carat, and Optimedia among others) by MediaPost found that they think the presentations are outdated, and that they actually don't really like sitting through 15 hours of presentations.

Really? Wow! Well, that might actually end up being bad news for the networks. Without that institution of the "upfronts" advertisers may feel freer to spend even more of their budgets on non-traditional advertising, spending more on the web. So we'll soon see if it's the "upfronts" institution, or the content, that guarantees the spending.

Oh, and about that content, with the writers still on strike, what scripted content will there be?

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.