LOWDOWN ON THE UPFRONT: Scripps Eyes Engagement

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New York--Don’t get Steve Gigliotti wrong, C3 is fine. But it’s only the start.

Scripps Network executive vice president of advertising sales said the metric --average commercial ratings, plus three days of digital video recorder playback, which became the currency for 90% of the deals during last year’s upfront -- is a good thing for the industry in the long-term.

“It really began the process for more accountability and higher expectations about the effectiveness of TV commercials,” said Gigliotti in an interview with Multichannel News after Scripps’s upfront presentation here at Cipriani Tuesday. “C3 is about retention, it’s the easiest thing to measure. Now, we want to start moving toward how people watch the programming and commercials. It’s about how people pay attention.”

That he says will favor the informational/educational fare offered by Scripps lifestyle services, HGTV, Food Network, DIY, Fine Living and country music network GAC.

“Our viewers are passionate about their homes, food, or doing things for themselves,” he said. “They lock into our networks, the programming, promotions and commercials, on-air and online.”

Gigliotti says differences in engagement levels between men and women, and older and younger (more anxious to move on to the next thing) viewers are important criterion to consider. He’s also thinking that engagement elements could serve as the underpinnings for a few buys this upfront season.

“Clients are asking us: ‘Can you guarantee it?’ Well, we need some third-party blessing for it, but I can see us experimenting with engagement with a handful of clients.”

To that end, he pointed toward Nielsen’s $225 deal to acquire IAG Research, a privately held concern that specializes in measuring consumer engagement with TV shows, national commercials and product placement, as a significant step for the industry in that direction.

Gigliotti called Scripps’s upfront last year “sensational. We were extraordinarily satisfied; it was bigger than we expected it to be,” he said, declining to quantify volume or CPM levels.

He did say, though, that Scripps reached its goal of selling more than 50% of its inventory: “Some [marketers] came to us later in the process and were surprised that we had already reached our inventory goals.”

As for this upfront season, Gigliotti is bullish about the cable industry’s prospects in general and Scripps in particular.

“I was just talking to the head of an agency, who was expressing surprise that her clients have continued to spend,” he said, noting that while some advertisers may be pulling back, others are stepping in and trying to capitalize on category absences and take share.“That’s a smart thing to do.”

Moreover, he said the scatter market has stayed robust. “The thought was that the writers strike may have pushed more money into the market in first quarter, before fresh [original broadcast] episodes ran out,” said Gigliotti. “But the second quarter has remained strong as well.”

Relative to 2008-09 TV season deal-making, things have yet to materialize. “We’ve had a few preliminary conversations, but no sense for numbers yet. I believe the upfront will set the market up well for 2009.”

 For more information on Madison Avenue' upfront selling season, click here.

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