Ad Climate Has “Settled Down,” CW Sales Chief Rob Tuck Says: “The Business Is Starting To Get Back On Its Feet”

Television advertising is starting to show signs of life as spring moves toward fall, in the view of Rob Tuck, EVP of national sales for the CW.

Speaking with reporters on the network’s upfront schedule call, Tuck said the network has “seen things certainly settle down” of late after the extreme period of late-March and early April as COVID-19. As far as third-quarter options for ad buys, “the pace is pretty much what we expected,” he said, and is on par with historical levels, “a tick higher” than low-single-digit increases.

The network’s upcoming schedule emphasizes January 2021 as the key start to new programming for the year, giving 2020-21 a different contour. Tuck said many advertisers need more time than they typically would for a fall ramp-up.

“Timing may be different from years past but people are getting ready,” he said. “They’re getting ready to figure out their plans for the 2020-21 season. There will be some clients who need to slow down. There are some clients whose businesses weren’t really that affected and they’re able to move quicker.”

Overall, he continued, “The business is starting to get back on its feet. Obviously, we realize the country needs to open, more businesses need to open and slowly but surely once that happens the ad market will begin to move forward as well.”

TV advertising has been hit hard in the short run by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With unemployment soaring from an all-time low to Great Depression levels in a matter of weeks, many media buyers scaled back immediately, especially in the absence of live sports or fresh programming.

Media companies have indicated in recent weeks that second-quarter ad revenue is likely to drop anywhere from 30% to 50% compared with 2019 levels. The question for the TV industry is whether its $70 billion ad business — remarkably stable in recent years despite secular downturns in viewership across the dial — is affected over the long term.

Tuck said the network is “fully prepared” to sell fourth-quarter inventory even though the slate of shows includes mostly lower-key holdovers like Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, though the finale of Supernatural should be a draw.

CW CEO Mark Pedowitz said the layout of the schedule made the most sense for the network but the aim was not to lead a broader industry move toward a new paradigm. Some stakeholders in the ad business have indicated that the upfront sales process will likely move to a calendar-year approach from the longstanding September-to-May emphasis. Demand from automakers, which used to buy ads for new models released only in the fall, has shifted now that they put out new vehicles 12 months a year.

Rick Haskins, the network’s president and chief branding officer, said CW promotions are likely to be tonally “a bit softer than what we’ve done in the past,” given the COVID-19 climate. He also said a new graphics package will be “a little more up, a little more bright as we move through the pandemic into the new phase of America.”

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