We all knew that these upfronts would be different, and that the Canadian network buying spree would be more like an episode of Survivor this spring. The usual ways of doing business, due for a shake down anyway, are getting ripped up on both sides of the border. Tiki torches will be snuffed.
Take today's announcement from CanWest Global. A week before the NBC upfront, they are announcing that Global is buying a bunch of new NBC shows. They include that hokey new Knight Rider series (starring Justin Bruening and his Shelby Mustang, above), My Own Worst Enemy starring Christian Slater in a 24-like thriller, the new sitcom Kath and Kim starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair and that top secret spin off of The Office. They've also renewed deals on NBC/Universal produced shows such as House, Heroes, the original Office, The Biggest Loser, Life and Friday Night Lights.
Striking deals and partnering with one studio brand by picking up an entire slate is nothing new in Canadian television. CTV buys most of what Disney and Warners has to sell each spring. Because NBC has broken away from the pack by getting the word out on their new season ahead of the upfronts, Global was able to do likewise.
Makes sense considering some networks are not going to have many pilots to shop to Canadian buyers anyway. This is especially true at ABC, which is ordering their new pickups straight from the creators, bypassing the pricey pilot step. It is a risk more networks are willing to take after watching too many ten million dollar pilots burst into flames upon impact. The economics of TV are changing and nobody in television has money to burn anymore.
Fox will have pilots but not many; they're No. 1, especially among 18-49-year-olds, and are expected to do little more than tweak their schedule. In an effort to keep everything cheap and cheerful (as well as spank those striking writers, although no one will admit it), all the nets will be heaping on the reality shows in 2008-09.
How much will the lights be dimmed on Broadway next week, where the upfronts kick off with NBC on Monday? “It’s going to be much more like a meeting,” says Mike Shaw, the president of sales and marketing for ABC, who is quoted in a sobering article by Virginia Heffernan in The New York Times. The party is so over, she reports. ABC, CBS and NBC, in fact, are not even having their usual upfront parties. With plunging ratings and audience share, the New York upfronts sound more like a wake. As Heffernan writes, "How do you celebrate your wedding anniversary the year that divorce is imminent? Do you drink alone? Toast to old times?"
Not everyone is convinced that the end is near for television. Fox will tell advertisers that TV, not the Internet, is still by far their best buy. Fox hired a marketing research firm to study buying trends, and they found that TV still accounts for 70% of the impact on consumers to make buying decisions. Read more in John Consoli's article today in Mediaweek, headlined, "Fox To Reinforce That TV is King."
CTV and Global will be selling the same message to advertisers at their upfronts at the end of the month. Which is funny, since they spun the exact opposite story when they went hat in hand before the CRTC over the last few weeks.