The kids' upfront remained stalled late last week for the
biggest-spending advertisers, but sources at Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. disclosed that
there was some movement among the next level of agencies and clients.
While they could not pin a dollar value on those buys,
these sources said the midsized accounts are "starting to take advantage of the lull
by locking in inventory."
Sources at Fox Family Channel had speculated that the
market might start moving in the week after the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau
conference, which was held March 5. But sources at Fox Family indicated that there's been
little, if any, sales activity into last week.
Earlier, Nickelodeon signed upfront deals with Burger King
Corp. and Johnson & Johnson, both via Ammirati Puris Lintas, but Gary Carr, that
agency's senior vice president and chief kids' buyer, refused to discuss his clients.
The kidvid upfront marketplace could add $30 million or so
to last year's $800 million, some buyers and sellers have been saying.
Networks were surprised late last month when even the toy
category's upfront buys failed to materialize, since that segment traditionally has moved
soon after the Toy Fair in early February. The annual Toy Fair gives toy marketers a
clearer idea of what their major retailers expect to be the hot new toy products of the
coming year, and especially the Christmas season.
Most industry sources have been blaming Jon Mandel, senior
vice president of Grey Advertising, as the key culprit in keeping the kids' upfront from
rolling. Mandel has said that his buys for such clients as Hasbro Toys (the No. 2 toy
maker) and Kraft Foods may not be ready until April.
Others also pointed fingers at the other major kids'
buyers: Leo Burnett USA, clients of which include McDonald's Corp. and Kellogg Co.; and
True North, which buys for Mattel Toys, the No. 1 toy marketer. Grey, Leo Burnett and True
North account for the lion's share of the kids' upfront, sources said, with Grey alone
handling an estimated 30 percent.
Audrey Steele, senior vice president and director of
strategic media resources at Zenith Media Services, called it a buyers' market, with key
agencies hanging back, presumably until they get their client budgets finalized. Others,
like Bill Croasdale, national-broadcast-division president at Western International Media,
said the holdup was due in part to trying to factor in all of the Fox Family avails
hitting the market, while still others saw the stalling as a negotiating ploy.
When bargaining does start in earnest, Croasdale said, the
kids' networks will likely be "looking at flat CPMs [cost per thousand homes], if not
minuses" -- something that the networks, especially those with ratings gains, will
undoubtedly try to fight.
Fox Family can't be overlooked, since it's a player that is
introducing 11 hours per day and flooding the market with "94,000 30-second spots on
an annualized basis," as Croasdale expressed it.
Although it brings The Family Channel's 72 million
households to the table, buyers dismissed Fox Family's projected 1.0 Nielsen Media
Research rating as unrealistic.
In talking down Fox Family's chances for ratings success in
year one, buyers maintained that the network faces an uphill battle in building children's
awareness, especially against juggernaut Nickelodeon.
Despite its hefty subscriber reach, Family is among those
cable networks that have cut back on what little kids' product they had offered in recent
seasons, so agencies reasoned that Fox Family won't have top-of-mind awareness among the
small fry. Yet, other ad executives said, just one or two hit shows can turn things around
with these notoriously fickle viewers.
Two weeks ago, Fox Kids Worldwide Inc.'s Fox Family took
its first major step toward rectifying its awareness problem by selecting Pittard Sullivan
as its creative/strategic ad agency and J. Walter Thompson Co. to handle media planning
and buying around its mid-August launch.
Peter Stranger, JWT Los Angeles president, hinted at the
magnitude of the campaign support when he referred to a "massive launch" for Fox
Meanwhile, other buyers and sellers felt that the stalling
tactics can't last much longer, lest the kids' market start colliding with planning for
the bigger primetime TV and cable upfronts, as well as with the markets for lesser
dayparts. Otherwise, said Bob Flood, senior vice president at DeWitt Media, there may well
be virtual "back-to-back upfront markets."
Steve Heyer, president and chief operating officer for
Turner Broadcasting System Inc., hinted at that potential problem when he told the CAB's
advertising-conference audience that he anticipated a healthy prime upfront -- once the
stalled kids' upfront gets done.
Croasdale expected the prime upfronts for the cable and
broadcast-TV networks to begin "in late May, early June."