Broadcast TV Upfronts: Which Network Has Most to Lose, Most to Gain?

Upfronts 2015: UEG President Jarrod Moses also tells TheWrap who won NewFronts — from both sides of the industry

Fox's Lucifer, ABC's Quantico, Grace Helbig

Traditional TV upfronts have been trumped by the newer, shinier digital NewFronts for “the first time ever,” United Entertainment Group President and CEO Jarrod Moses told TheWrap.

And there’s nothing the linear, traditional channels can do about it.

“The networks didn’t spend all their pilot money, because all the other ancillary distributors are buying up the creative before the networks get a chance to,” Moses said.

Before the broadcast nets took the stage to show off and sell off their latest programming lineups to potential advertisers, Moses warned industry watchers to keep expectations low — at least from an innovation perspective — saying he doesn’t see anything “shocking or new or different” ahead.

The buzzwords this time around — in addition to more L3 and L7 talk — the marketing expert predicted will be “packaging” and the somewhat more descriptive “transmedia packaging.” Basically, that’s just the latest term to indicate a push by the networks to sell bundles of ad spaces covering multiple distribution platforms; that is, traditional over-the-airwaves TV, apps, online and over-the-top slots where available.

The total spend will be $9 billion during the upfront period, which works out to about 50-70 percent of an advertiser’s budget, Moses estimated. Generally speaking, that budget is slotted for six months of advertising, with an option to continue the rest of the year at the same rate of the initial buy.

While there is a ton of money overall at stake, Moses said, “the upfront is more ceremony than substance at this point. Even for the past five years, most of the deals were taking place before the shows were even presented in a public manner.”

But the networks’ May moment remains huge. There is still much to gain and much to lose and not just in immediate ad dollars.

Moses said the network with the most to gain is Fox, which makes sense, as Fox TV Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman’s channel will finish this fall TV season in fourth place per Nielsen ratings. But it’s not just a nowhere-to-go-but-up scenario; Fox just experienced what Moses calls “a pinnacle moment” with smash-hit “Empire.”

Moses wants to see Fox “catapult” off of the buzz, much like it did with “American Idol” a decade ago.

“If their programmers are smart, they’ll take the ‘Empire’ programming piece and utilize that as a springboard for new programming, and for a way to get an audience back into their portfolio of shows,” he said.

If a network has the most to gain, surely one must have the most to lose. That equally potentially flattering or insulting distinction goes to CBS, America’s most-watched network (NBC is ahead in the key 18-49 demographic), according to Moses.

“They continue to ride this wave of ‘top-place network,’ regardless of the demographic,” he started.

CBS will also have the most difficult time communicating how to effectively reach the all-important millenial generation with advertisers. In short, they’re not fulling anybody, despite best efforts.

“It’s really hard for CBS to pull off that conversation, even though Les [Moonves] was the first to go over-the-top,” Moses explained.

Still, not all hope is lost for uber-successful CBS — not by a long shot. Moses expects the “platinum network” will stick with what it does best: continuing to own that older demo. (“People are [staying] older longer, so it’s working,” he said.)

Moses does expect the network to go a little younger — they have to someday — but he predicts we’ll see that more through sports than scripted programming overall in 2015-2016.

For NBC, Moses suggests that network pivot from the half-hour comedies that carried it in the ’90s and move towards one-hour science fiction dramas. The UEG boss thinks NBC should make that effort in part to stay younger than ABC.

Speaking of ABC, Moses wants to see more of the same there: “Straight-down-the-middle family entertainment … it’s working for them,” he said.

The Disney network doesn’t have to be bland, though — Moses said it can push the envelope through its half-hour sitcoms, which it has already done somewhat.

In addition to the aforementioned “Empire”-based advice for Fox, Moses believes the fourth-place network should see this one-off as a sign to push the diversity programming angle overall.

He also thinks that Fox should take a page out of YouTube’s playbook: taking more risks, creating more excitement. That’s a high-praise strategy considering Moses believes the Google video company won the NewFronts by being the most aggressive brand.

And last but not least, for CW, Moses would advise the youngest-skewing broadcaster to play the reality TV game: “CW should copy Bravo,” he told us simply.

Finally, we asked Moses to name a few of the advertisers that are killing it this year, since there are two sides to the New York City-based ad sales event’s equation. Immediately, he mentioned Red Bull, before adding that nostalgia-based sneaker brands like Converse and Adidas are making a real go of it too.

But in addition to the energy drink, another beverage company that Moses said is “having a bit of a renaissance” this year: Pepsi.

“They realized that entertainment was part of their DNA,” he said, “and that’s how they [could] beat Coke.”