Scripps Eyes Strong Upfront Season

Steinlauf Points to Number of Factors That Will Trigger Madison Avenue Bazaar
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While this is upfront selling season could be shaped in many cases by whether C3 or C7 is the deal currency, Scripps Networks Interactive stands in the corner of the former metric.

That’s because most of the lifestyle programmer’s audience viewing happens in the tighter window.

Jon Steinlauf, executive vice president of ad sales and ad sales marketing at Scripps, said that over 94% of Scripps’ C3 viewing occurs live. “That’s the best concentration other than sports or news,” he said.

C3 ratings is the current ad market standard, which includes digital video recorder playback and the average for all commercials over three days, while C7 incorporates seven days of delayed viewing.

Steinlauf attributed Scripps’ viewing immediacy to the entertainment, informational and aspirational appeal of the company’s programming – 150 original series and 2000 hours of lifestyle fare across six networks -- Food, HGTV, Travel, Cooking Channel, DIY and Great American Country.

For most networks, he said, individual shows drive the audience. That’s not necessarily the case for Scripps: “People tend to watch our brands first, the shows second,” underlining the point by labeling Scripps as “ESPN for women…If Macy’s needs to be there for its next-day sales, they want tonight’s audience, not six days from now."

He also said viewers “don’t skip the breaks,” as Scripps runs a number of vignettes that follow the program content. For example, the Feb. 11 episode of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible centered on bringing tough makeover lover to The Curve in Palm Springs. Capital One sponsored a “Hidden Gems” 30-second vignette that showed markets, stores and experiences and where viewers subtly see the card being used around the resort city. The vignette then leads into the client’s Alec Baldwin creative. “We tend to program the breaks. Viewers think of our breaks as content. There is a lot of branded equity for our audiences,” said Steinlauf.

As to the overall upfront prospects, Steinlauf said the ad industry picking up again after uncertainty surrounding the election and fiscal cliff curtailed spending in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the impact of Superstorm Sandy wiped out ratings information for 10 days and halted advertising business in New York. “Seventy five percent of the transactions take place in Manhattan,” he explained.

However, there has been significant improvement of late with worries about the fiscal cliff somewhat subsiding, the S&P hitting a five-year high, auto sales improving and housing industry – a particularly important one for Scripps – recovering over the last six to 12 months. As such, Steinlauf said the ad market is “starting to percolate.” He said Scripps’ first-quarter scatter market has been up between 15% and 20%, another good harbinger for the upfront.

 “Cable will do fine,” he said, pointing to continuing shift in the medium’s favor by a share point or two every year to where the industry now holds a 70% to 30% edge in impressions over broadcast. He said that old argument that there is a significant gap between top shows on broadcast and cable is waning. “Of the top 15 shows on television, five to seven are now on cable. AMC’s The Walking Dead is the biggest show on TV, while History’s [miniseries] The Hatfields and McCoys was the top event. It’s more of a level business between top cable networks and broadcast,” he said. 

The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau estimates that national cable networks wrote business totaling a record $9.79 billion during the 2012-13 upfront, a 5% gain from $9.29 billion for the 2011-12 season. Published reports peg broadcast’s upfront take and between $8.9 billion and $9.2 billion.

There has also been much talk about digital video, especially with tablets continuing to proliferate, commanding a larger share of spending in the annual Madison Avenue bazaar. Steinlauf believes there will be an uptick, but digital video “will not dismantle the TV world.”

He said authentication, rights and measurement issues currently remain factors in greater video adoption. CommScore’s research aside, Steinlauf said that “Nielsen will eventually organize a market around [digital video], compatible with TV.”

He said on average that cable networks draw 3% or 4% of TV ad sales from digital video, while Scripps is at 7%, as its lifestyle categories lend themselves to users delving deeper for information on the programmers’ online platforms, following the conclusion of linear shows.

During the upcoming upfront, the programmer plans to stay its course, generating between 50%-60% of its overall ad revenue, with most deals finalized in June. Steinlauf said Scripps realizes another 15% of its ad sales during the calendar upfront market, which has been strong, and the balance in a scatter.

He said there is “a lucrative marketplace” for endemics in the food, home and travel sectors.  “Spring is like Christmas for the home categories,” he said.

Following its pre-upfront press briefings last week, Scripps is girding up for annual road show trek eight upfronts: starting in Boston on March 19 and concluding in Los Angeles on May 2. In between talent, executives and media buying community will gather at presentations in Minneapolis (March 21), Detroit (March 27), Chicago (April 10) Atlanta (April 15), New York (April 23 at Alice Tully Hall), and Dallas (April 29).