For - And On - The Record: Nets Claim Strong Upfront Sales, Price Gains

The broadcast networks, which had been on silent running throughout most of the upfront, turned toward public relations Monday, claiming CPM increases in the mid single digits to--in CBS' case--apparently, low double digits.

After having some of their thunder taken away by an early break to the cable upfront--while the Big Four were still presenting their schedules to advertisers--executives painted a positive picture for the 2004-05 upfront, but said they would also play in the scatter market.

An accurate count of the broadcast network upfront wasn't readily available, although the MediaDailyNews spoke with four networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, and UPN.

There were CPM increases at each of the networks for their prime-time schedules, although the volume picture wasn't as clear. While NBC remains the winner in overall take of the upfront pie, CBS and UPN also posted impressive gains. ABC sold 5 percent less inventory this year during the upfront, betting that the demand for scatter inventory will be heavy and pricing at a premium.



CBS reported the biggest jump in volume increases, from last year's upfront take of $2.2 billion to this year's $2.4 billion. CPM increases in prime time were on average in the low double digits. That would meet CBS --and now Viacom--chief Leslie Moonves' prediction to reporters about a month before the upfront began.

Unlike most of the other broadcast networks--with the exception of Viacom sibling UPN--CBS recorded modest, but still real, ratings gains. That helped CBS sell inventory, buyers said.

And JoAnn Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, said Monday afternoon that advertisers rewarded CBS for its strong, consistent program schedule and the ratings. It was also buoyed by a strong Thursday schedule and CSI on three separate nights during the week, she said.

"Our demographic growth and our prime-time schedule has been very consistent, and we had a lot of momentum," Ross said. "I think we hit home."

Strong categories included telecommunications, automotive, movies, and DVDs. CBS sold between 80 percent and 85 percent of its inventory.

"We're in good shape for the scatter market," she said. Ross said most of the upfront deals have been completed for CBS, with only a few remaining this week.

A few blocks away, NBC was counting its money and declaring victory compared to what could have been. NBC sold about $2.9 billion in inventory, which was flat with the record upfront haul last year. NBC would not comment publicly about CPM increases, but industry sources pegged its upfront increases at between 6 percent and 8 percent.

"We think this is a huge home run because we didn't have 'Friends' and we didn't have 'Frasier' this year," said a NBC representative. Hot shows included "Friends" spinoff "Joey," the new "Law & Order," and "Revelations," a religious-themed series starring Bill Pullman.

Last year, NBC sold 83 percent of its prime-time inventory during the upfront, but this year it held back more for scatter and ended up 78 percent sold.

Just as CBS' upfront story was sweetened by the performance of UPN and MTV Networks, NBC also had a great year elsewhere. The newly expanded NBC Universal cable networks registered volume increases of 20 percent; Bravo, based on the success of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," was up 100 percent. Telemundo was up 34 percent over last year's upfront. NBC Universal's network and cable take in the upfront is estimated at $5.3 billion.

ABC took in $2.1 billion during the upfront, selling 5 percent less inventory than it did a year ago. CPM increases were between 5 percent and 6 percent. That includes between $500 million and $600 million in prime-time sports, including "Monday Night Football."

ABC will play in the scatter market, hoping that the price of its inventory will increase as the months go on.

"Over the last 11 out of 12 years, the scatter marketplace for all networks has seen increases over upfront pricing, so selling more scatter has been advantageous for the networks," said ABC Ad Sales Chief Mike Shaw in a prepared statement with ABC's news release on the upfront.

One of the big winners was UPN, which came out of nowhere this year with the success of "America's Next Top Model." UPN was the talk of the upfront season as it showed the programming prowess of Moonves and UPN chief Dawn Ostroff, coming up with what appeared to be some of the most innovative programs on any network schedule.

Ross said that UPN was helped by growing numbers in adults 18-34 as well as good buzz on the clips that turned into enthusiasm for shows like "Kevin Hill," "Second Time Around," and "Veronica Mars." Ross said that it helped sell UPN.

"Those were two things that could not be ignored," she said.

UPN sold about $350 million in advertising for the next television season, compared to $250 million a year ago. Price increases were an average 9 percent. UPN was able to attract about 20 new advertisers in categories ranging from insurance to fast food to retail, along with packaged goods.

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