With a nod to Mark Twain, reports of a deathly upfront may be greatly under-exaggerated. In a comprehensive report, Credit Suisse indicates that the market's year-over-year decline may be more precipitous than previously predicted.
Any calamity, of course, would be for the networks. It looked to be a buyer's market.
Credit Suisse says total volume for broadcasters dropped 22% -- to $7.2 billion. Brick by brick, the Big Four each saw dollars fall between 18% and 24%.
ABC and CBS each took in $1.9 billion -- both down 24%, according to the Wall Street firm.
NBC saw a 21% drop to $1.5 billion, while Fox was down 18% to $1.6 billion. The CW dropped 17% to $300 million.
Cable, meanwhile, apparently had a greater firewall -- but still suffered notably, with a 12% volume drop across the industry to about $6.7 billion.
Lower demand played a role in both markets, with advertisers' concerns about committing dollars for the longer term. But the primary driver, the report says, is networks selling considerably less inventory than a year ago.
Overall, Fox sold 75%, with NBC at 71%. ABC came in at 68% and CBS at 65%, according to the report.
Networks are betting on the scatter market to yield an overall revenue increase. Credit Suisse projects pricing there to be up only about 5% over upfront levels -- a modest figure.
Lower upfront sellout levels could increase supply and lower pricing further, although no top media company executive has given an indication that the current scatter market is less than robust.
Credit Suisse says broadcast CPMs dropped in the 4% to 5% range in the upfront. The Big Four, the report adds, are girding for ratings declines, making guarantees based on ratings falling about 3% to 4%.
Cable networks saw an average 5% CPM drop, while selling 10% less inventory as a group.
The upfront is not necessarily an indicator of future results. But Credit Suisse used its estimates to project revenues for broadcast networks to be down 5.7% in 2010, while cable as an industry would increase 2.7%.