NBC's The Network To Watch -- And Maybe Buy -- This Upfront

Network sellers and buyers are gearing up for a big battle this upfront. But who will be the real leader?

CBS says it is. 

For the 2013-2014 season, CBS posted  the best 18-49 viewer ratings and highest upfront ad revenue.

But this year could be a different story.

Early estimates are that overall broadcast and cable networks will average pricing gains of about 4-7%.  

NBC is looking to make a lot more hay.  NBC’s key has been posting a better supply -- an increase in 18-49 primetime rating points. Once the leader in average CPM among 18-49 viewers, NBC has fallen below the likes of Fox and CBS.

This all means that NBC will be looking like a great deal for marketers. But NBC knows this. In that regard, the network will ask for some relatively large increases --- at least an 11% hike from prices a year ago -- according to sources.

Other networks might not be in the same area code. CBS, Fox and ABC will perhaps initially ask for 6-8% hikes.



It may sound strange that, in a still seemingly soft-to-moderate TV ad market, anyone could be asking for double-digit percent increases.  

But even with that 11% increase, marketers would still be paying somewhat less on average for NBC than for other networks. That’s because, on average for 18-49 CPMs, NBC is priced around 15% below CBS and Fox, executives say.

Broadcast CPMs averaged $44.11 for adults 18-49 in 2013, according to SQAD, an independent researcher for TV, radio and digital costs and analysis.

CPMs continue to climb -- though total out-of-pocket costs have dropped due to smaller overall ratings. Not too long ago, broadcast network CPMs were around $30-35 for key primetime 18-49 viewers, according to industry estimates.

Supply of ratings points will help fill in the picture. We don’t have current C3 data, but other metrics give us a general idea: Through May 4, looking at Nielsen’s live plus seven days of time-shifted programming NBC was in first place among adult 18-49 viewers, up 17% from last season to a 2.8 rating average.

Fox was next at 2.5, even with last season. CBS was down 17% from last season to a 2.4 rating; ABC was down 5%, to 2.1. Then came Univision, losing 20%, to a 1.2; and CW, i 14% to higher to a 0.8 rating.

In the past year, NBC and Fox benefited partly due to sports -- the Winter Olympics, and the Super Bowl, respectively. But even without the Olympics, NBC was still ahead.  

What will media buying executives do? The upfront market -- and its potential leader -- awaits.

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