Fox Has Contra Scatter: Sees Uptick, But Modest Demand

While the Big 3 networks have acknowledged flat or down scatter market sales, the top executive at Fox Wednesday said the network's scatter ad inventory is running at least 5 percent higher than upfront pricing.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox's parent company News Corp., gave the update during a conference call announcing News Corp.'s results after the markets closed Wednesday afternoon. That would make Fox among the only broadcast networks to see an increase in scatter so far this year. CBS and NBC have both said recently that fourth-quarter scatter pricing was lower than the double-digit price increases the networks got in the upfront. ABC hasn't commented recently but said about a month ago that it had single digit price increases over the upfront rates.

But Peter Chernin, president of News Corp., said that the volume is low so far.

"There's not a lot of scatter in the marketplace," Chernin said.

Prospects are even better for advertisers' commitments to the upfront, with under 5 percent cancellation rates for the next two quarters.



"Which is almost a record," Murdoch said.

Chernin said Fox had avoided any makegoods during the quarter, thanks to a stronger-than-expected performance by post-season baseball. But as the downbeat ratings of the broadcast networks this season hung over the conversation, Chernin said it was too early to tell whether Fox would have significant makegoods but he didn't anticipate any.

"But we're eight or nine days into the launch of the fall schedule," said Chernin, referring to the delayed fall launch because of Fox's commitment to Major League Baseball. "It certainly doesn't feel like there would be any significant makegoods."

Murdoch alluded to the concerns over ratings, not just at Fox but at all the broadcast networks.

"Let me assure you you're not alone," he said.

But he said that he was confident about Fox's prospects as American Idol begins a new season in January. Murdoch said "American Idol" had the power to lift all of Fox's schedule. It certainly did that in its first two seasons, and along with the first season of "Joe Millionaire," brought Fox to the point of seriously challenging NBC for dominance in adults 18-49. "Joe Millionaire," which crashed and continues to burn in its second season, wasn't mentioned in the conference call.

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