VW GM Says It Can Wait on Upfront 'til Mid-September

Last Updated Jul 13, 2009 5:38 PM EDT

Though there have been many outlandish estimates as to when the upfront ad sales market for TV -- which is usually pretty much concluded by now -- will finally move this year, a pronouncement by Steve Neder, Volkswagen of America's general manager-brand strategy, that the company has to "nail ourselves down by mid-September" ranks, I think, as the farthest-out statement of just how long an advertiser is willing to wait the market out this year.

It's also strangely telling that only Ad Age had a story about the upfront in this morning's batch of media news stories -- Monday being the day when the ad and media trades post the most content. Normally, as negotiations would be full steam at this point, every publication would feel the need to write about the upfront, even if all they wrote about was the gossip and innuendo that characterizes most upfront stories.

But the one story that's out there today is a good one since it shows just how stretched out this upfront market is going to be. Here are some other juicy advertiser quotes. From Brett Dennis, director-media, T-Mobile:

Frankly, we don't have a timetable. We'll take as long as it takes to get the gap closed. We are less interested in wrapping things up vs. really putting together upfront plans that make sense for us. We see this every five years or so when the market tends to reset itself. And this is definitely one of those years.
From Ed Gold, ad director, State Farm Insurance:
I would look at it as buying a house. Would you pay the price someone is asking for, or do you wait them out? With the marketplace and with the recession and with the situation that we're in, this is not going to be an up market, so the opportunity to participate in the upfront still is valuable to us, but you know, it's only July 9. Why do I need to buy today when it's going to be there tomorrow?
Now, it's important to remember that, to an extent, these quotes are part of that age-old upfront tradition of negotiating through the press, but there are three big differences this time around:
  • The recession makes the usual money concerns more real than ever.
  • Network TV viewership continues to decline.
  • Advertisers are becoming more confident about using other advertising options. The Ad Age story says packaged-goods advertiser Reckitt-Benckiser is spending five percent of its TV budget in online video. That option barely existed a few years ago.
Thus, with each week that goes by with no substantial movement in the marketplace, the most pressing question becomes not what prices the TV networks will get in the end, or even -- as this post might lead you to believe -- when the upfront market will get rolling. No. The big question is whether this year ends up being the straw that finally breaks the upfront market's back, when the lunacy of paying more money for less eyeballs finally reaches its breaking point. If the market doesn't go anywhere for most of the summer, we may have our answer.

Previous coverage of the upfront market at BNET Media: