Upfront: Fox Negotiations Underway, All Nets' Volume Down From '06

Now that most TV buying and selling executives agree on the issue of commercial ratings, what remains is a stronger marketplace in terms of CPM viewer prices.

Late last week, Fox and CBS joined NBC and other networks in upfront deal-making. "We've come to terms with many of our clients, and negotiations are underway with the rest," said a Fox spokeswoman.

The media executive says Group M, Magna Global, Zenith Media, and others worked late into Friday night doing deals with Fox--and estimates Fox completed more than 70% of its deals. CBS also did a fair amount of business.

A CBS spokeswoman would not comment, except to reaffirm that it is in discussions with many clients. An ABC spokeswoman had no comment concerning any deals at that network. Early in the week, NBC made a nearly $1 billion deal with media agency group Group M.

Still, the market isn't moving at lightning speed.

"There has been a little bit of flurry," said one veteran media agency executive late on Friday afternoon. "Some of the best shows on Fox may have been sold. But not all deals are done. Some clients who have figured out their CPM are now just haggling over the mix of programming."

Media analysts believe Fox first inked deals with movie companies--its typical initial upfront agreements.

Movie companies typically pay the highest rates of any TV advertisers. Networks like Fox, with young-skewing shows like "American Idol," sell a lot of inventory to them, as well as other advertisers that target this demo. Executives believe those movie deals could be in the 7% to 8% range over a year ago.

Other networks may be getting higher price increases too--4% to 6% for networks such as NBC, compared to little or no increases in program pricing during the upfront market of a year ago.

While the broadcast networks may be cheering over some improvements on their program CPM increases so far, this upfront is still behind in overall volume from last year. Media executives still believe overall upfront dollars will be the same--or down--versus a year ago.

Networks are hoping to get mid-single-percent increases in the cost-per-thousand viewers prices over a year ago. But such figures won't help against the double-digit ratings declines this season.

However, the nets are betting that deals based on commercial-plus three days of DVR playback will help out later in the year. With DVR penetration now at 17% and expected to climb to as much as 25% or more by some estimates for next year, the broadcast network picture could improve.

"It could add to the broadcast rating supply for the coming season," said one veteran media agency executive.

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