New York -- Discovery Networks U.S. will be among the major
cable programmers turning up the heat on their broadcast-television rivals.
Discovery's weapons in the coming upfront battle will include its "mega-brand
Bill McGowan, Discovery Networks' senior vice
president of ad sales, is projecting a $2.8 billion cable upfront -- up from $2.2 billion
a year ago, by his reckoning. Most other industry sources put last year's cable
upfront at $2.3 billion.
The lion's share of that uptick will come from
accounts shifting dollars from broadcast to cable, McGowan said, although he also foresaw
a degree of churn hitting print media, as automakers -- notably General Motors Corp. --
and pharmaceutical companies detour dollars to cable.
The biggest beneficiaries in the trend away from TV will be
such broad-based services as USA Network and Turner Network Television, plus such larger,
targeted networks as Discovery Channel and ESPN, McGowan said after a press briefing in
mid-April, just before he hit the road with Discovery's upfront presentations. The
cable tier least likely to benefit, he added, will be the emerging, low-distribution
McGowan also predicted that cable in general will enjoy
double-digit cost-per-thousand homes (CPM) increases in this upfront, rather than the
single-digit hikes of recent years.
Discovery Networks' mega-brand upfront strategy offers
inventory across its various operations -- from the established analog networks, to online
and, eventually, to its so-called showcase digital services -- McGowan explained. A key
component, he said, is its "mega-brand roadblock" buy -- offering clients one
minute per week across all of the analog networks (now including The Travel Channel and
BBC America), within the same primetime half-hour; that roadblock will also include
late-night reruns of the primetime shows bought, he added.
The company -- projecting a 5.0 Nielsen Media Research
average household rating for the roadblock buy -- will price the roadblock's CPMs
competitively against lower-level TV-network CPMs, McGowan said.
Discovery intends to make this concept true "one-stop
shopping" in the next few years by offering single invoicing, he noted.
It will be a while before its digital networks are included
in Discovery's roadblock package -- probably not until sometime during 1999, McGowan
However, online is already "an important part of the
network sell," he pointed out, noting that one-half of its online inventory is
packaged with network time. The biggest new client taking advantage of this integration of
online and network buys is Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury division, he said. Under
Mercury's multiyear Discovery Channel Online buy, the automaker sponsored a series of
quarterly scientific expeditions. This series, Mercury's Planet of Wonders,
bowed April 20 with a monthlong expedition to Bolivia by American Museum of Natural
History scientists; others are planned for July and October.