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Upfronts: What's Up With Them For TV Season

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CNBC.com

Today kicks off the upfront ad sales period- the week in which the broadcast networks traditionally aim to sell the majority of their primetime ad inventory.

But this year you won't see the traditional star-studded red carpets, screenings of strings of pilots or post-presentation extravaganzas at New York landmarks like Tavern on the Green.

Thanks to the writers' strike, which shut down production during crucial pilot season, there aren't many new pilots to show. And thanks to an industry-wide ad slowdown, and more ways for advertisers to reach consumers than ever (like the Internet) the networks are worried that money may be tighter than usual.

Analysts are predicting that at best--spending on the networks primetime programming will be flat with last year's roughly 9 billion dollar spend. More likely it'll be down: I'm hearing estimates of anywhere from two percent to fourteen percent in a very worst case scenario.

But the show will go on, and a less expensive show at that. The networks are cutting back on the fancy parties, and red carpets and instead presenting lineups with more of an emphasis on the strategy behind scheduling, building lineups around existing hit shows.

The big threat this year: cable. The strike actually helped cable ratings, and with cable channel's more targeted demographics, advertisers often find they get more bang for their buck.

The big innovation this year: multi-platform deals. The networks are packaging broadcast, cable, web, mobile, even outdoor ads, so buyers can feel like they're doing one-stop shopping. The networks are also finding ways to launch new shows without spending on pilots. The big trend there "back door pilots"- producing TV movies instead of pilots.

If the TV movie does well you get a double whammy: a strong TV movie and that sells the TV show. So you don't end up wasting any money on a pilot that goes nowhere. Worst case, you get a TV movie.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com