Upfronts Explained : The Two-Way So, what are the upfronts, exactly?
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Upfronts Explained

In case you didn't realize it, we're in the middle of upfronts.

What is that?

Or, what are those?

Brian Stelter and Stuart Elliott, reporters for The New York Times, define the term on the Media Decoder blog, in a post called "Upfronts 101."

"The word 'upfronts' is shorthand for an annual rite of passage for television networks and the industry that operates in orbit around them," they write. "It generally refers to three activities: No. 1: The unveiling of new television network schedules, No. 2: The cajoling of advertisers by the networks, No. 3: The selling of billions of dollars in advertising time."

In other words, we're talking about two big issues here: money and entertainment (hopefully).

No. 1 is the most important for fans who want to know when their favorite shows will return and which new shows will join the schedule. Nos. 2 and 3 are the most important to networks who want to keep shows in production and keep generating steady profits for their parent companies.

On All Things Considered tonight, NPR's Neda Ulaby will talk about programming changes, with a particular focus on NBC's lineup. (The network is trying to recover from a bad prime-time season, previously anchored by Jay Leno's [failed] 10:00 p.m. show.) I caught up with her a few minutes ago.

At venues across New York City, networks screen short trailers for their new shows. ("They're very slickly presented," Ulaby told me.) Executives pull no punches. At Fox's presentation, Jane Lynch, as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, took to the stage to introduce the network's head honchos. Then, the cast of Glee performed.

Ulaby said that, "when you're a casual consumer, you don't think about the amount of money at play when you're watching television." And in New York during upfronts, "that's tangible."

The media buyers she talked to are singularly focused on demographics.

"They don't really care whether or not the shows are good," she said. "They just want people to watch them. They're very focused on demographics and how many eyeballs they're going to attract."

So, how do things look? In Ulaby's estimation, there's actually a lot of "happy buzz, a sense of improvement." In their post, Stelter and Elliott echo that:

Analysts forecast that the 2010-11 upfront market will be much more robust than last year, with ad revenue for the broadcasters as much as 15 to 20 percent higher than in 2009, although that would bring the total back to only around where it was in 2008, before the recession took its toll.