Johnson & Johnson has told the US television networks it is taking a back seat at the imminent annual ritual of upfront commercial airtime buying.

The New Jersey-headquartered healthcare products giant says it wants to do deals according to its own schedule, beginning the media-buying process in late August to fall in line with business planning.

Comments J&J chief media officer Kim Kadlec: "What we found is, if we can synchronize our business-planning cycle [with buying media time] it will benefit the brand and that is what this is all about."

However, the company's decision to sit out the selling bazaar - when broadcasters secure commitments for about 80% of the coming fall season's primetime ad inventory - is also indicative of how marketers are diversifying their ad dollars into other media and becoming more assertive.

J&J, whose consumer brands include Band-Aid and Neutrogena, spent around $500 million (€390.1; £265.8m) on network TV ads last year.

But it may be just the first in a line of advertisers who will forego the scramble for perceived crucial ad buys.

Says Bill McOwen, evp and director of broadcast at Havas' MPG: "It's a supply-and-demand issue. With the maturation of cable and the digital realm, there are absolutely more choices today."

Even before J&J's move was revealed, the broadcast upfront market was expected to be weak. Some marketers are expected to hold back money for newer, digital options. Last year, the broadcast networks' primetime upfront sales fell about 3.2% to $9.1 billion.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff