TV Network Execs: Stronger Scatter To Counter Upfront Woes

A weak TV upfront ad market is not worrying TV network executives.

Speaking at the Nomura Digital Media Conference in New York, media selling executives said a weak-performing upfront TV ad market -- where broadcast networks witnessed nearly an 8% reduction in advertising dollars to $8.45 billion, and where cable networks dipped almost 5% to $9.68 billion -- is not a concern.

“If you have the content, the dollars always follow,” says Joe Ianniello, chief operating officer of CBS Corp. “Whether people shift from upfront to scatter, it doesn’t matter to us because we have confidence in our schedule.”

Ianniello reiterated what many media analysts are projecting -- that TV’s quarter-by-quarter scatter advertising markets will be stronger than in recent periods: “The third quarter should be better than the second, and the fourth quarter is going to be better than the third.”

CBS’ Ianniello also notes CBS has sold around 80% of its inventory in its new “Thursday Night Football” package from the NFL, which will start this month.

At the same Nomura event, Andrew Warren, chief financial officer of Discovery Communications, tempered the characterization of the “weak” TV upfront market: “It was more ‘soft’ than ‘weak’,” he said. “Traditionally, we sell around 50% of our inventory in the upfront, and we did around 50%. We took a little less volume at good prices. It was really more about preserving price... For us, we’ve always had success in the scatter market.”

Growing cable network group AMC Networks sees itself a bit differently than bigger TV advertising selling companies. With regard to the upfront, Sean Sullivan, executive vice president/ CFO of AMC Networks, said: “We don’t necessarily view ourselves as the market... We saw very good CPM growth and double-digit growth in terms of volume. We are very please with how we did in the upfront.”

That said, Sullivan said some TV advertisers/categories did shift some dollars to digital or “for more flexibility in the scatter market." He added: "We have historically done well in the scatter market.”

Although there has been some movement of dollars to digital, Sullivan doesn’t believe this will have a significant impact for AMC Networks currently.

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