Cable Upfront Bolts Out Of The Gate
Universal Television Group Network, Discovery Communications and one or two other cable networks didn't wait for the broadcast upfront to be over before they started making deals. Typically, the syndication market goes after the broadcast networks hoping to catch the wave. Not so this year.
"We jumped on the wave first," said Jeff Lucas, president of ad sales for Universal Television Network, which includes USA Network and Sci Fi Channel along with digital-tier channel Trio. "I think it was an advantage to go early."
Charlie Collier, vice president of advertising sales at Court TV, said more business is in process at this point than cable has had in some years past. "There's a momentum to the marketplace," Collier said.
Universal Television Network's upfront is about 70% done with CPM increases beginning in the high single digits and now riding in the low-double digits. Volume is up about 20%. Categories driving the increases at Universal include retail, pharmaceuticals, packaged goods and fast foods; entertainment, particularly the DVD segment, is also strong. At Discovery, with about 70% done, CPM increases have been in the double digits. Joe Abruzzese, Discovery's president of ad sales, said the categories driving his networks' upfront spending are foreign automobiles, pharmaceuticals, packaged goods and some of the retail segments.
Abruzzese, a veteran of many upfronts as head of ad sales at CBS, said he was surprised by how much money was coming into the market and how quickly it's coming.
There are several theories on why the cable upfront has been so strong. One theory has advertisers deciding to pool upfront and scatter money. This would then avoid increases in the scatter market CPMs. Even though the upfront isn't over yet - Lucas estimated Universal would be close to finished by Friday - everyone's already looking to the scatter market.
"That's a big question, what follows this upfront money," said Abruzzese.
Lucas said Universal has positioned itself as a quality alternative to broadcast and that the cable product overall has improved in recent years. He said that this year's strong upfront shows that the message is coming in loud and clear. "The overall quality of cable is being noticed by both viewers and advertisers. They're registering their support" in upfronts like this.
"Consumer confidence is starting to show a little uptick and I think there could be some new business here and hopefully some new business behind it," Collier said.