Thursday, May 23, 2013

What’s in a name: Newfront is an affront

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I led the media department of Leo Burnett in Amsterdam and I helped usher in the commercial TV revolution to its clients. The Netherlands did not have commercial TV until 1989. Before that date, the state owned TV channels (there were 2!), sold advertising once a year in September, and in that month all advertisers had to commit for the whole of the following calendar years’ worth of TV advertising. It resulted in an up-front commitment made in September of one year all the way to Christmas the next year. It was ludicrous and fell apart when commercial TV was launched with far more flexibility and commercial openness.

In China, once a year, national (and government owned) TV network CCTV puts on a big event in a ballroom somewhere in Beijing. And when I say event, I mean an auction, with paddles and shouting and showrooming and everything else that comes with a frenzied auction atmosphere. CCTV auctions off its most prized assets for the upcoming TV year. Very often, Chinese advertisers pay ridiculously inflated prices for airtime well into the next year, as the auction frenzy sets off a battle of "mine is bigger then yours" in terms of budgets and commitments. Last November, CCTV's haul was $2.5 billion. Nice for an afternoon's work.

Both events are stupid and would never happen anywhere else. Right? Wrong: something quite similar happens every year in the United States of America and is called the Upfronts.