Upfront Wrap-Up: TV Network Chiefs Grapple With Uncertain Advertising Environment

If you strip away all the glitz, glamour, buzzy new show trailers and jokes from this long week of upfront presentations, what you’ll see is a bunch of network executives simply trying to keep their heads above water in this ever-changing TV industry.

In fact, it may have been ESPN’s Kenny Mayne who unintentionally spouted out what many in the TV industry could use as their mantra: “I don’t know how the hell we’re going to do it, but I’ll be working on it.”

Faced with declining linear television ratings (NBC, thanks to the Super Bowl, was the only network that saw any improvement this season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic) and no end in sight to cord-cutting, network chiefs spent the past week trying to put advertiser fears at rest.

Also Read: CW Upfront: 5 Takeaways from the Network’s (Very Short) Presentation to Advertisers

But at least there is one thing that both advertisers and media companies can agree on: The way TV audiences are measured has to change.

“I still cannot believe I have to get up on this stage and talk about legacy measurement,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships, NBCUniversal, during the company’s presentation at Radio City Music Hall on Monday morning. “Aren’t we all tired of letting inertia rule our industry?”

But changing the way an entire industry has done business for decades can feel like trying to steer the Titanic away from that iceberg. They have to hope they turned the wheel early enough.

Also Read: CW’s Annual DC Crossover Will Include Batwoman, Visit Gotham City

“Let’s stop trying to measure everything using Nielsen. We’re so beyond that,” Barry Lowenthal, president of ad agency, The Media Kitchen, told TheWrap this week. “We measured exposure because we couldn’t do anything better than that.”

Nielsen has tried to include viewing on non-TV platforms with its Total Audience Delivery, but that measurement has so far failed to catch on with buyers and sellers. That has lead to the networks trying to come up with an answer themselves.

“The audience is there, we’re just simply not measuring them,” Kevin Reilly, Turner Entertainment Networks chief operating officer, argued to reporters following Turner’s upfront on Wednesday. “If you want to reach an audience on TV, which still is highly effective, nobody would debate it. What’s not effective is this measurement.”

Also Read: Stephen Colbert Mocks CBS’ Reboot Fever, Ugly Legal Battle With Viacom at Net’s Upfront

Although there has been a push towards “audience-based” buying, the majority of TV advertising is still purchased against Nielsen’s C3 metric, which measures how many viewers were tuned into the program during the commercial breaks, for up to three days after the broadcast. Yaccarino noted it was 11 years ago that the decision was made to use C3 as the main currency, back when “we used flip phones.”

But another media buyer told TheWrap that the solution shouldn’t be left exclusively to those doing the selling. “While some acknowledged the measurement is broken, not sure the rhetoric or solutions being showcased by the sellers is the answer,” said Shari Cohen, executive director of media investments for Mindshare.

The advent of streaming networks like Netflix and Hulu have trained viewers to expect fewer commercials, or none at all. That has had a domino effect on linear TV. Turner was among the first media companies that decided to cut back on the number of commercials it airs, and since then other networks like NBC and Fox have followed suit.

Also Read: ABC Upfront: 6 Takeaways From Lincoln Center Presentation to Advertisers

Fox unveiled its new plan for cutting back ad loads this season, introducing its new “JAZ Pods.” While that sounds like incomprehensible ad jargon, it simply means that for some of its shows, the commercial breaks will only have two ads, just the “A” and “Z” slots that run next to the actual program.

Joe Marchese, during Fox’s upfront, said that this new format will be used on a variety of Fox broadcast and cable channels, including FX’s new New York Times series “The Weekly” and certain Sunday nights on the broadcast network next season. He said this would be bring down the total of commercials by as much as 60 percent.

Reilly said he’s glad to see other networks follow their lead. “It has to happen, and we have to continue it,” he said of making the linear TV environment less commercial heavy. “TV has got to get to that place where there is less clutter, and that will be more effective for advertisers.”

The fact is, despite the confidence network executives shared on the upfront stage this week, nobody really knows where the media industry is headed. “We’re entering Mordor,” said Lowenthal. “What’s on the other side?”

Related stories from TheWrap:

CW Upfront: 5 Takeaways from the Network’s (Very Short) Presentation to Advertisers

Les Moonves Jokes About Messy Legal Drama at CBS Upfront: ‘How’s Your Week Been?’

ABC Upfront: 6 Takeaways From Lincoln Center Presentation to Advertisers

If you strip away all the glitz, glamour, buzzy new show trailers and jokes from this long week of upfront presentations, what you’ll see is a bunch of network executives simply trying to keep their heads above water in this ever-changing TV industry.

In fact, it may have been ESPN’s Kenny Mayne who unintentionally spouted out what many in the TV industry could use as their mantra: “I don’t know how the hell we’re going to do it, but I’ll be working on it.”

Faced with declining linear television ratings (NBC, thanks to the Super Bowl, was the only network that saw any improvement this season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic) and no end in sight to cord-cutting, network chiefs spent the past week trying to put advertiser fears at rest.

But at least there is one thing that both advertisers and media companies can agree on: The way TV audiences are measured has to change.

“I still cannot believe I have to get up on this stage and talk about legacy measurement,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships, NBCUniversal, during the company’s presentation at Radio City Music Hall on Monday morning. “Aren’t we all tired of letting inertia rule our industry?”

But changing the way an entire industry has done business for decades can feel like trying to steer the Titanic away from that iceberg. They have to hope they turned the wheel early enough.

“Let’s stop trying to measure everything using Nielsen. We’re so beyond that,” Barry Lowenthal, president of ad agency, The Media Kitchen, told TheWrap this week. “We measured exposure because we couldn’t do anything better than that.”

Nielsen has tried to include viewing on non-TV platforms with its Total Audience Delivery, but that measurement has so far failed to catch on with buyers and sellers. That has lead to the networks trying to come up with an answer themselves.

“The audience is there, we’re just simply not measuring them,” Kevin Reilly, Turner Entertainment Networks chief operating officer, argued to reporters following Turner’s upfront on Wednesday. “If you want to reach an audience on TV, which still is highly effective, nobody would debate it. What’s not effective is this measurement.”

Although there has been a push towards “audience-based” buying, the majority of TV advertising is still purchased against Nielsen’s C3 metric, which measures how many viewers were tuned into the program during the commercial breaks, for up to three days after the broadcast. Yaccarino noted it was 11 years ago that the decision was made to use C3 as the main currency, back when “we used flip phones.”

But another media buyer told TheWrap that the solution shouldn’t be left exclusively to those doing the selling. “While some acknowledged the measurement is broken, not sure the rhetoric or solutions being showcased by the sellers is the answer,” said Shari Cohen, executive director of media investments for Mindshare.

The advent of streaming networks like Netflix and Hulu have trained viewers to expect fewer commercials, or none at all. That has had a domino effect on linear TV. Turner was among the first media companies that decided to cut back on the number of commercials it airs, and since then other networks like NBC and Fox have followed suit.

Fox unveiled its new plan for cutting back ad loads this season, introducing its new “JAZ Pods.” While that sounds like incomprehensible ad jargon, it simply means that for some of its shows, the commercial breaks will only have two ads, just the “A” and “Z” slots that run next to the actual program.

Joe Marchese, during Fox’s upfront, said that this new format will be used on a variety of Fox broadcast and cable channels, including FX’s new New York Times series “The Weekly” and certain Sunday nights on the broadcast network next season. He said this would be bring down the total of commercials by as much as 60 percent.

Reilly said he’s glad to see other networks follow their lead. “It has to happen, and we have to continue it,” he said of making the linear TV environment less commercial heavy. “TV has got to get to that place where there is less clutter, and that will be more effective for advertisers.”

The fact is, despite the confidence network executives shared on the upfront stage this week, nobody really knows where the media industry is headed. “We’re entering Mordor,” said Lowenthal. “What’s on the other side?”

Related stories from TheWrap:

CW Upfront: 5 Takeaways from the Network's (Very Short) Presentation to Advertisers

Les Moonves Jokes About Messy Legal Drama at CBS Upfront: 'How's Your Week Been?'

ABC Upfront: 6 Takeaways From Lincoln Center Presentation to Advertisers

Five Takeaways From the Turner Upfront

Leave it to the home of Samantha Bee and Conan O’Brien to try to get people laughing while discussing a serious matter. As TV networks made their sundry “upfront” pitches to Madison Avenue this week, Time Warner’s Turner made th…

Leave it to the home of Samantha Bee and Conan O’Brien to try to get people laughing while discussing a serious matter. As TV networks made their sundry “upfront” pitches to Madison Avenue this week, Time Warner’s Turner made the most direct case for advertisers to stop thinking about TV content as only the stuff […]

TBS ‘Never Even Had a Chance’ to Nab ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ Kevin Reilly Says

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” fans rejoiced last week when NBC saved the Fox-canceled sitcom, picking up Season 6 for a midseason start. Among the extended “squad” members doing a happy dance was TBS president Kevin Reilly, who many thought would have a shot at bringing the critically acclaimed comedy to TBS since he developed the show during his time at Fox.

“I never even had the chance” to bid on the Universal Television series, Reilly told a group of reporters on Wednesday after Turner’s upfront event. Fox canceled “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on Thursday, and fans erupted over the unpopular decision. By Friday, NBC announced it was bringing to show to its own airwaves.

With “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” only in the TV graveyard for one day, it would’ve been a quick call for Reilly. “I did get some incoming calls. I would’ve considered it, but I wasn’t going to do it overnight,” he added.

Also Read: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Save: ‘We Jumped on It Really Quickly,’ NBC Chief Bob Greenblatt Says

The Turner Entertainment Networks chief operating officer further stated that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” belongs on NBC since the show literally belongs to NBCUniversal. “Good for NBC, they stepped up,” he continued. “It’s their show and their studio.”

Nevertheless, Reilly was “very excited” that the show will come back for at least one more season. “It’s great people and great talent.”

Reilly elaborated a bit more on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” stating that they do own syndication rights to the cop comedy. “I’m not sure that there would be that much more value to have the originals,” he told TheWrap. While Turner’s TBS network has rescued canceled sitcoms in the past including “Cougar Town” and “American Dad,” Reilly said they’re more focused now on their own development pipeline.

Also Read: TNT’s ‘The Last Ship’ to End After Season 5

“TBS was a network that was about acquired product. We have taken huge steps to make it place that is about original product,” he continued. “It’s hard to then go back.”

However, he admitted that if he had an opportunity to rescue an animated series like Turner did with “American Dad” — which he actually canceled while he was the entertainment chief at Fox —  Reilly would “pick that up in a heartbeat.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Seth Meyers’ Best NBC Upfront Jokes Skewer ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Pickup, Matt Lauer Scandal

‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Saved? Other Networks and Platforms Have Already Expressed Interest

Why Fox Canceled ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ ‘The Mick’ and ‘The Last Man on Earth’

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” fans rejoiced last week when NBC saved the Fox-canceled sitcom, picking up Season 6 for a midseason start. Among the extended “squad” members doing a happy dance was TBS president Kevin Reilly, who many thought would have a shot at bringing the critically acclaimed comedy to TBS since he developed the show during his time at Fox.

“I never even had the chance” to bid on the Universal Television series, Reilly told a group of reporters on Wednesday after Turner’s upfront event. Fox canceled “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on Thursday, and fans erupted over the unpopular decision. By Friday, NBC announced it was bringing to show to its own airwaves.

With “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” only in the TV graveyard for one day, it would’ve been a quick call for Reilly. “I did get some incoming calls. I would’ve considered it, but I wasn’t going to do it overnight,” he added.

The Turner Entertainment Networks chief operating officer further stated that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” belongs on NBC since the show literally belongs to NBCUniversal. “Good for NBC, they stepped up,” he continued. “It’s their show and their studio.”

Nevertheless, Reilly was “very excited” that the show will come back for at least one more season. “It’s great people and great talent.”

Reilly elaborated a bit more on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” stating that they do own syndication rights to the cop comedy. “I’m not sure that there would be that much more value to have the originals,” he told TheWrap. While Turner’s TBS network has rescued canceled sitcoms in the past including “Cougar Town” and “American Dad,” Reilly said they’re more focused now on their own development pipeline.

“TBS was a network that was about acquired product. We have taken huge steps to make it place that is about original product,” he continued. “It’s hard to then go back.”

However, he admitted that if he had an opportunity to rescue an animated series like Turner did with “American Dad” — which he actually canceled while he was the entertainment chief at Fox —  Reilly would “pick that up in a heartbeat.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Seth Meyers' Best NBC Upfront Jokes Skewer 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Pickup, Matt Lauer Scandal

'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Saved? Other Networks and Platforms Have Already Expressed Interest

Why Fox Canceled 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'The Mick' and 'The Last Man on Earth'

Turner Asserts Its Reach Beyond TV Screen, Advertising Innovation: “We’re In This Together” — Upfronts

At Turner’s annual upfront at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, company head Kevin Reilly and ad-sales chief Donna Speciale emphasized the Turner networks’ reach beyond the TV screen and its efforts to reinvent the traditional TV advert…

At Turner’s annual upfront at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, company head Kevin Reilly and ad-sales chief Donna Speciale emphasized the Turner networks’ reach beyond the TV screen and its efforts to reinvent the traditional TV advertising model. “The industry spends a lot of time talking about the future,” Speciale said. “But talk is not action and we're not changing fast enough.” While Reilly described the company as being “trapped by C-3 ratings,” Speciale…

Conan O’Brien’s TBS Late Night Show Shifts To 30-Minute Format In 2019

Conan O’Brien’s TBS late-night show will change to a less structured, 30-minute format in 2019 in which he plays in, and out, of the studio,  the late-night host and network announced.
And, O’Brien’s going on a multi-city tour t…

Conan O’Brien’s TBS late-night show will change to a less structured, 30-minute format in 2019 in which he plays in, and out, of the studio,  the late-night host and network announced. And, O’Brien’s going on a multi-city tour that will launch later this year, TBS announced as part of a partnership spanning television, digital, social and live events . The Team Coco push will be spearheaded by Billy Parks who has been named to the newly created position of Chief Brand…

As TV Networks Work To Limit Ad Time, Fox Seeks “Sustainable Solution”

TV networks are under increasing pressure to maintain profit margins and distribution while also adapting to the expectations of viewers who are swimming happily in a sea of ad-free streaming content.
Fox acknowledged that reality this week, becoming the latest network to state its goal of reducing ad time, joining NBCUniversal, Turner and Viacom in the effort to slim down. Ad chief Joe Marchese said his team would actively explore getting down to just two minutes of ads…

TV networks are under increasing pressure to maintain profit margins and distribution while also adapting to the expectations of viewers who are swimming happily in a sea of ad-free streaming content. Fox acknowledged that reality this week, becoming the latest network to state its goal of reducing ad time, joining NBCUniversal, Turner and Viacom in the effort to slim down. Ad chief Joe Marchese said his team would actively explore getting down to just two minutes of ads…

Inside Turner Chief Kevin Reilly’s Plan to Reinvent TBS, TNT for a New Era

“You guys have crushed it,” TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly enthused as members of TBS’ programming team raised champagne flutes filled with mimosas. Reilly had gathered TBS staffers at NeueHouse Hollywood for a daylong off-site get-together back in September. The first item on the agenda for programming chief Brett Weitz and a dozen other […]

“You guys have crushed it,” TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly enthused as members of TBS’ programming team raised champagne flutes filled with mimosas. Reilly had gathered TBS staffers at NeueHouse Hollywood for a daylong off-site get-together back in September. The first item on the agenda for programming chief Brett Weitz and a dozen other […]