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May 14, 2008

ABC upfront: Computing the bottom line


ABC's upfront presentation strategy was so different in every respect to NBC, it almost seemed as if the network was straining to achieve total polarity.

NBC tried to stimulate ad buyer's right-brain feelings about its familiar shows; ABC appealed to their left-brain sense of logic. NBC sought to bring ad buyers into the creative process; ABC made clear -- to a room full of ad buyers! -- that product integration was OK and all, but not to the point of violating creative integrity. NBC went for big concept new ideas for the fall largely based on mere scripts; ABC rolled out a lineup heavy with familiar shows and a couple new efforts that included bona fide video clips.

More generally, ABC was all about information. As the lawyers say, "When you have the facts on your side, argue the facts." ABC projected on the screen and emphasized its strongest fact: The network was No. 1 in adults 18-49 last fall until the strike hit. The success was achieved with almost the exact same lineup the network will have next fall. Therefore, ABC is in an excellent position to take the lead once again.

Of course, the logic ignores the post-strike scripted series ratings mayhem that's plagued serialized shows like "Grey’s Anatomy," "Ugly Betty" and "Desperate Housewives." And ignores that shows such as "Eli Stone" and "Dirty Sexy Money" weren't exactly tearing up the Nielsens when they were last on the air.

But still … with the exception of "Stone," there’s not a show on ABC’s fall schedule that most of its rivals would not have likely renewed after this tumultuous season. So it's tough to argue that ABC doesn't have enough new shows just because it was strong enough in the ratings this season to not require a major overhaul, or because it wants to give last fall's promising-yet-disrupted shows another shot.

The audience seemed less impressed with ABC's new "Advertiser Value Index," which takes various advertiser-valued demographic and psychographic factors, assigns them numeric values and spits out a network with the highest score. Not surprisingly, that network was ABC.

In the room, the AVI smacked of "Hey, how about you all use these new ratings instead to make your ad buying decisions? According to them, we're awesome."

In truth, advertisers use similar calculations all the time, though are probably more likely to stick with their own math. ABC is genuinely in the sweet spot of high income and education demographics that used to be NBC. And the AVI's ability to tell advertisers specifically which ABC show will best fit the variables that they find important could have benefits.

All in all, the ad community generally likes ABC programming, and that means a lot. When entertainment president Steve McPherson concluded the presentation by saying the room was going to get a sneak peak at the upcoming season finale of "Lost," ad buyers excitedly buzzed like they were at Comic-Con.

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