Cable Opens Upfront Planning Salvo, Claims Thursday Nights

The cable TV industry today will launch the first significant salvo of the 2005-06 upfront planning season, releasing research designed to dispel perceptions that the major broadcast networks have made inroads with hits like ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." Cable's upfront pitch comes at a crucial point in the upfront planning process, just days before top media planners and buyers are scheduled to meet in New Orleans for their annual conference, and a week before the syndication industry hosts Madison Avenue at its annual conference in New York.

It also comes as dozens of individual cable networks begin ramping up their own upfront sales pitches in an array of events that will build through March and April into May when the major broadcast networks unveil their new prime-time schedules and the upfront buying season officially gets underway. The timing of the new research, being released today by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, is intended to sway the way media planners think in an effort to influence both the size of cable ad budgets, as well as the timing of the upfront marketplace. In short, the cable industry is hoping for a repeat of last year's upfront when cable ad deals preempted the broadcast networks' and nearly a billion dollars moved to cable.



"People are going to start making decisions over the next 30 days," says Sean Cunningham, president of the CAB. Due to the consolidation of media buying into a handful of shops, and the fact that they now all plan and buy across a much wider scale of TV options, Cunningham says there has been a push to move the planning cycle up and to drill deeper down into TV viewing patterns to help make upfront buying decisions.

"It seems to be moving up a couple of weeks every upfront. A whole lot is being pored through right now, and we're being asked for this stuff," claims Cunningham, explaining why the CAB is releasing the new research, an intricately detailed analysis of the first 20 weeks of the 2004-05 prime-time season, with plenty of bullet points designed to debunk broadcast TV's perceived inroads.

The deck, which will be distributed this week to more than 300 key media planning and buying executives, and which will be made available in its entirety on the CAB's Web site, takes a particular jab at the broadcast networks' lucrative Thursday night franchise, as well as Friday and Saturday night. The research claims the broadcast networks are losing ground, while cable is growing on those nights, which are crucial for especially valuable advertising categories like automotive and movie marketers, who rely on weekend traffic for the bulk of their sales.

A copy of the CAB deck previewed by MediaDailyNews was so chockfull of numbers and fine print that its likely to make even the youngest media planners' eyes squint, but Cunningham says it is just the kind of data they've been asking for, noting that there's already been an extraordinary amount of traffic to the CAB's site, even before it's posted the new research.

"This level of drill down is really based on demand from our customers," he explains. "We've seen our website traffic counts double during the month of February. Typically, we get about 400 discrete visits a day. We've seen 800 in the month of February so far."

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