Wait! Cable's Upfront Is Also Down This Year?

Virtually all pre-upfront TV advertising market estimates pointed to lower advertising dollars for the broadcast networks. That was almost a given.

But now The Wall Street Journal is reporting what no had one predicted: cable networks’ total upfront ad dollars might drop as well, partly due to pullbacks from Procter & Gamble and General Motors.

Estimates had been that cable networks’ upfront ad revenue would surely rise  -- some 2%-4%, or perhaps more.  But the Journal says they will decline, and not by a fraction of a percent or even a tiny 1% percentage -- but by as much as 4%-5% from last year’s nearly $9.9 billion.

If that occurs, analysts believe it will be only the second time ever for such a drop.  The upfront for both cable and broadcast sank some 12-14% in 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis.

But hand me that salt shaker, because the cable upfront market is still going on.  It’s several weeks after the conclusion of the broadcast upfront, which analysts say dropped 5%-10% from last year’s $9.3 billion estimate.



Perhaps even murkier is where those missing dollars might be going.  While digital video and overall Internet advertising looks to grow, many are skeptical that big companies who used most of their ad spend for TV will make a drastic shift to digital. That’s because digital video metrics are still getting their feet wet, and there’s even less surety over mobile and tablet viewing.

Here’s the current math: Total annual TV advertising comes to some $70 billion, with digital video advertising looking to get $5 billion or so this year. TV advertising is growing slowly, 3% or so; digital will be up by somewhat-crazy double-digit percentages.

In recent years, cable networks have seen audience erosion of 5% year-over-year among key demographic groups.

Media buyers have been concerned for years that cable networks’ virtually unlimited commercial inventory could hold down pricing. Many digital video sites have had similar issues.

Sales executives at cable networks and digital video platforms say that, while lots of inventory can be available, top video programs and content come at premium pricing.

And of course this is just the upfront -- the futures national TV ad market. We are unsure if actual business will “close” in mid-September, or what the scatter markets  -- in the fourth, first, second, and third quarters  -- will bring. Care to make some bets now? Your provisional revenue estimates are always welcome.

1 comment about "Wait! Cable's Upfront Is Also Down This Year?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 21, 2014 at 8:38 p.m.

    Maybe advertisers worry that new viewing options have further eroded audience tolerance for ads.

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