Cable Networks Could Lead The Upfront -- But Still Be Behind

What would be the psychological effects of cable's upfront ad revenues matching -- or exceeding -- the broadcast networks, as more than a few analysts predict?

Short term? A small cheer.

Long term? Cable still has a long way to go in other areas.

For everything but a few original dramas, cable's average CPM is at least 15% lower than the broadcast networks -- and there's little chance of cable catching up in that area.

It's estimated that broadcast networks in this upfront are tacking on CPMs ranging from 8% extra (NBC on the low end) to 14%. At best, cable networks will get to the high end of that range. But they would need much more to approach actual broadcast CPMs, which have been around $31 or $32 for key 18-49 viewers.

For many, CPMs still represent a key sticking point. Cable proponents say TV viewers are TV viewers. (Digital video sellers would have a different side of the argument). Still, concerning cable, how can people expect marketers to suddenly pay really huge increases to cable to put them on par with the broadcasters? That has always been the rub.



Cable may have a psychological advantage if, as analysts say, it ends up a little ahead of broadcast this year. Of course, you are comparing apples and oranges. Cable represents some 70-odd ad supported cable networks, versus five or six broadcast networks.

Not only that, but on a network by network basis, total TV network advertising results speak clearer about what is going on.

According to Kantar Media, for the full year 2010, CBS held the top spot at $6.48 billion; ABC was next, $5.06 billion; NBC, $4.82 billion; Fox, $4.49 billion; and Univision, $1.87 billion. Well behind is the biggest cable network, ESPN, at $1.74 billion; TNT, comes next, $1.20 billion; USA Network, $1.1 billion; TBS, $890 million; and MTV, $820 million.

Cable may still be looking up. But it has some way to go when it comes to playing on an even advertising field with broadcast networks.

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