Adman Wants to Retool Upfront


Just when it seemed talk of upfront ad sales was over for another year, an agency executive has put the annual bazaar back in the spotlight.

Carat North America CEO David Verklin has detailed what could be called a road map for the first change in the upfront business model in decades. But executives on both the buying and sales sides said it would be tough to implement.

Verklin, a longtime critic of the present upfront format, has suggested in informal talks with major media entities that the broadcast negotiations be moved toward an August-September time frame, with the infamous late-night bargaining sessions over pizza and fast-food eliminated.

Specifics were sketchy last week, with Verklin — since last month, also the regional CEO for Aegis Group's newly formed Aegis Media — unable to be reached for further comment. His office indicated there's nothing about his plan in writing yet.

But Discovery Networks U.S. president of ad sales Joe Abruzzese said upfront reforms could help.

"I think putting a time limit on business is pretty healthy," he said. "The sellers make just as many mistakes as the buyers" in a frenzied atmosphere.

He praised Verklin for thinking outside the box, then observed that if this were a buyer's market or a soft marketplace, you wouldn't see this call for change.

The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's new CEO, Sean Cunningham, felt Verklin's proposal was inspired as a way to give media buyers more leverage. Looking back at upfront history, he said, very few years have favored those on the buying side of the table.

Abruzzese pointed out that several major cable players — such as Discovery Networks U.S., Turner Entertainment Group and Universal Television Group — write upfront business at the same time as the broadcasters.

"They will continue to do that," even if this plan were to become reality, he said.

CAB's Cunningham, the former executive vice president of Universal McCann, said "cable can only benefit from a buying and selling environment that best serves the objectives of our clients. CAB is supportive of timing that's in synch with advertisers' overall business-planning process."