TV nets wrap upfront week: “The biz still goes through us”

What, me, worry?

Those three words broadly sum up the attitude of the broadcast TV network chiefs regarding the encroachment on their turf by digital media companies, as they conducted their traditional springtime dog and pony shows for advertisers in New York this week.

Two weeks earlier, Google (s GOOG), Yahoo (s YHOO), AOL (s AOL), Microsoft (s MSFT) and other big digital media companies closed out their “Newfront” presentations to the same constituency, appealing for a portion of traditional TV’s annual $70 billion market share.

But as this week’s upfront presentations revealed, the linear video guys still have lots of swagger.

“Not Google, Netflix, Yahoo or, YouTube can compete with our scale,” Fox Broadcasting (s NWSA) entertainment chairman Peter Rice told advertisers and their agencies Tuesday. “They’re now buying shows — good for them. In reality they’re going to find they’re in the NFL. It takes a lot to make a show that people want to watch across all media.”

“Everyone is still talking about the first screen, the TV screen,” CBS Corp. (s CBS) chief Les Moonves told the Carnegie Hall audience Wednesday. “The first screen must come first, and there’s no second screen without it.”

For now, the money seems to backing up these claims.

With the CW delivering the last of the big broadcaster presentations of fall schedules on Thursday, network ad sales executives and media agency TV buyers will commence their annual negotiation dance.

During these transactions, large automakers, drug companies, packaged-goods makers and other big brands will buy the bulk of their commercial time for the coming TV season.

Last week, Morgan Stanley media analyst Benjamin Swinburne predicted that broadcasters would see about a 1 percent increase over last year’s upfront market haul, estimating their take this year to be around $9.16 billion.

Swinburne projected that cable networks — whose collective market share is being specifically targeted by companies including Google, Yahoo and AOL — will see their upfront revenue increase around 4.3 percent to $9.69 billion.

“We think it is still too early for online video to be meaningfully disruptive to TV,” Barclays Equity Research analyst Anthony DiClemente reported Wednesday.

The average U.S. person, DiClemente noted, still watched 153.19 hours a month of TV in the fourth quarter, compared to 4:34 hours of online video and 4:20 of video on phones.

Digital as we wanna be

When they weren’t belittling the premium video efforts of the digital stalwarts, network entertainment chiefs were touting their own digital prowess.

Rice told advertisers that on Fox, their brands “can live across platforms, with digital and social we can engage with your customers like never before … We’re delivering both impressions and expressions that makes Fox the number one network on TV and social.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, CW detailed plans for a new digital studio called CWD, which will produce online programming including game shows, comedies and animation.

One of CWD’s first projects will be Gallery Girl, a series of animated comedy shorts featuring a sarcastic SoHo art gallery owner who plies her acerbic wit to her celebrity patrons.

On the other side, digital companies weren’t really expecting to peel away too much in the way of digital market share this year. Their objective is a longer-term play.

“We’re gearing up for 2013,” Yahoo’s head of video and original programming, Erin McPherson, told paidContent in March.