EXECUTIVE SESSION WITH MICHAEL TEICHER

At Twentieth, Upfront Already Underway

Twentieth Television's new chief ad salesman is off and running, making sure that his clients -- Twentieth and Debmar-Mercury -- are in position to grab their fair share of the upfront ad dollars this year. "We’re working with clients to create their own targeted network with scale. We’re talking about reaching their target community, break through the clutter, manage costs and help viewers see their ads live."

The syndication upfront will not hit full stride until late spring or early summer, but Twentieth Television’s new top ad salesman Michael Teicher is already meeting with advertisers and their agencies about the market where about three quarters of syndication inventory is expected to be sold for the 2014-15 TV season.

The executive vice president of media sales is trying out a new overall pitch for Twentieth shows like Modern Family, Family Guy, Dish Nation and Divorce Court as well as Debmar-Mercury offerings like Wendy Williams, Family Feud, Anger Management and newcomer Celebrity Name Game with host Craig Ferguson. (Twentieth has a deal with Debmar-Mercury to handle its inventory.)

In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Kevin Downey, Teicher talks about the upfront and how he plans to make the most of it for Twentieth and Debmar-Mercury with his new approach.

An edited transcript:

What are your expectations for the syndication upfront this year? 

It’s too early to predict the market. But second quarter scatter has been quite steady with options – cancellations no higher than they’ve been in previous quarters.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

At this point, the [syndication] market looks like it will perform as it has in the recent past. The last two years have mirrored a lot of the rest of the market, broadcast primetime for sure. Syndication has a similar demand structure and a similar pricing structure. [Editor’s note: Pivotal Research estimates syndication ad spending in 2013 was slightly down from the year before to around $2 billion.]

In my travels thus far it is becoming increasingly clear that clients are demonstrating more flexibility than ever. They’re empowering their agencies to make media investments across all video.

So why syndication rather than other TV media?

One of our advantages is that we sell on a program-by-program basis. That allows you to create a customized network. What we provide is an opportunity for advertisers to laser focus on their demographic.

For the most part, on cable and broadcast, you have to buy a schedule or a daypart. That means an advertiser’s spots air on a variety of programs. Some of those shows hit your demo. Some don’t.

If you’re watching our sitcoms, you’re watching the program, then we own commercial 1A and commercial 1B. Back to the program. Then, we own 2A. So, two-thirds of our spots are in the A position.

This is something that broadcast networks can’t do and it’s something that cable, which has extremely long commercial pods, can never offer. When advertisers see that they’re in pod G on cable, they start moving money out of cable so they can get our primary positions.

We can integrate content from our shows seamlessly with brand messaging. We are well known for meaningful and effective integrations in first-run properties like Wendy Williams, Dish Nation and we will do that in Celebrity Name Game.

And our shows aren’t DVRed. The importance of this to advertisers is that we will day lock your schedule.

If you’re a movie company, a retailer or an automotive company that needs your message seen live on a specific day, that’s what we do. We’ll lock it in for the day you need it.

Twentieth Television is starting to meet with upfront advertisers. Isn’t it early for that?
I joined Twentieth about five months ago. We are presenting a completely different look and a completely different way of looking at our business.

When you do that, you have to get out earlier than usual. You want your advertisers to absorb everything. There are also some strategic opportunities we may uncover for advertisers, so we need enough runway before the upfront to provide additional research for advertisers and ad agencies.

What is Twentieth’s new positioning?

Our new perspective is to think about everything from the lens of the brands — from their perspective and how they can benefit from a relationship with Twentieth Television. We believe that, more than any other studio, we have world-class brands on TV and distributed on every platform.

Despite the opportunities for marketers to reach consumers in a number of ways, we’ve garnered from agencies and clients that there are a number of challenges they’re concerned about: ratings fragmentation, reaching an audience with as little waste as possible, aligning a brand with content they want to buy, standing out from the competition and making sure ads are seen when they have the most impact.

How is Twentieth Television going to address those concerns?

We’re working with clients to create their own targeted network with scale. We’re talking about reaching your target community, break through the clutter, manage costs and help viewers see your ads live. Advertisers are losing sleep over DVRs.

Consumers are loyal to content, not the distribution method by which it’s delivered. We’re asking planners and clients to not create media silos because viewers don’t.

We did some primary research. We polled 900 sitcom watchers using language that they’re used to, like “repeats” and “reruns.” Among other things, the survey found that 95% of viewers watch sitcom reruns.

This is really important. What we’re trying to do is get planners and clients to give up some traditional tenets of the business that say check the cable box, check the network box. Instead, we want them to gravitate to content.

Do you try to sell syndication without using the word “syndication?”

If I’m asking agencies and clients to be platform agnostic, I don’t want them to put us in the syndication bucket. I want us to be purchased because we have the right content that reaches the right audience.

Where does Twentieth’s content fit into an advertiser’s ad buy?

Every broadcast primetime television buy and most cable buys over index on adults 35-plus. If you’re buying 18-49 or 25-54, television is old.

At Twentieth, we over index on the younger side. So, we’re the perfect way to counterbalance that. Our top sitcom is Modern Family. On adults 18-34, we have a 2.6 rating, which is higher than the averages for networks in primetime. 

We have a number of shows that reach Millennials. Among adults 18-29, which is not a traditional Nielsen break, just to make a point, you see Family Guy and Modern Family [in the top 10] against all of broadcast TV. That is substantial. Among women 18-29, we have a nice presence on the top 10 list.

Men 18-29 is probably the hardest group to reach on TV. Advertisers gravitate to sports, as they should. However, a small reallocation of money can help an advertiser reach this group.

Among young African Americans, compared with BET, we basically dominate the list of shows that reach that demographic. This is a critical audience that we reach.

But our real gold is the English-dominant Hispanic population. It’s arguably one of the most important segments of the population that chief marketing officers are trying to reach. If you look at the top 15 programs on broadcast, we have more rating points and greater reach than anyone else on television.

This supports breaking down silos. Why would you put us in a bucket other than thinking about reaching your target audience with great content that makes sense?

Are there ad categories that are strong in syndication right now?

It’s no secret that auto sales are strong, whether it’s the U.S. brands or Toyota, which has made an incredible comeback, and Hyundai-Kia, which is one of the most unbelievable success stories in the automotive business. And the competitive nature of wireless will keep that a strong, vibrant category.

Health and beauty is an enormous category for us. Packaged goods are strong for us and so is pharmaceutical.

The broadcast networks are talking about changing their currency from C3 to C7, adding four more days of recorded commercial ratings. What impact would that have on syndication?

If the networks push too hard for that, I think it’s an advantage for us. Syndication is not DVRed, so if an advertiser’s message is timely, it’s just another reason to buy our programs.

Another hot topic heading into the upfront is programmatic buying, or automated buying. Will that affect this upfront?

I don’t believe it’s an issue this year, although it’s definitely one of the hottest topics being discussed among clients and agencies. It’s already happening on the digital side.

But it’s in the nascent stage on TV. Traditionally, media sales companies have been very hesitant about anything that takes inventory out of their hands, out of fear of it being commoditized. I don’t think suppliers will rush in to be part of that.


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