TV Upfront Registers Modest Gains

WatchingTV-ABCTV upfront deal-making continues at a modest -- some would say slow -- pace heading into the weekend. All that might yield slightly lower-than-expected pricing for network sellers.

Fox appears to be the only network fully active in closing deals -- more than 50% sold as of Thursday. By Friday, the network moved to higher sellout levels completing deals with major media agencies.

ABC and CW have also begun deal-making in the "early stages," per executives. A CBS network spokesman said: “We are in active negotiations with major agencies across the industry. We look forward to another successful upfront where we are confident we will lead in both volume and pricing.”

Reports suggest NBC may be getting some pushback from media buyers, due to a plan to selling packages for all its TV properties -- including broadcast and cable networks inventory -- under one media buy.

Media agency analysts believe CBS will still lead all networks in terms of the key buying financial metric -- the cost per thousand viewers. But how much is anyone's guess at the moment.

Network selling executives say the posturing is that CBS is seeking 8% to 9% gains in the CPM viewers. ABC is at 7%, with Fox following at around 5% to 7%. NBC will trail with increases of 4% to 5%, with CW also seeking gains of around 5%.

But many media-buying executives believe these numbers are a "fantasy" -- and that given a relatively modest and perhaps weaker market, prices will come in 1% to 2% lower for their respective CPM ranges for each network seller.

Fox goes into the market -- as it usually does -- seeking young-skewing movie upfront dollars, as well as automotive upfront dollars. Traditionally, Fox has fewer gross rating points to sell because it has one hour less of prime-time programming for night. But next season, that inventory will be smaller due to a steep drop in viewership this past season -- near 20% for some viewing demographic groups.

Fox, ABC, and CW representatives had no comment about upfront dealings. An NBC spokesperson did not return messages by press time.

Overall volume for the five English-language networks is estimated to be around $9.2 billion -- flat or slightly down versus a year ago. Advertising-supported cable networks could see a 3% to 4% rise overall to near $9.8 billion.

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