Networks Need More To Meet Q4 Sales Goals

TV networks have bigger goals in the fourth quarter this year than for the same time period a year ago--needing a collective $500 million to $600 million to meet their advertising sales goals, say media buying executives.

All have had a sluggish start, but now look to be catching up. Says one network executive: "It's going slow--but it is going." Media buying executives say upcoming November and December network prime-time inventories are tight versus that of October. That's pushed up pricing. Prime-time shows are inking deals at low to mid-single-digit percentage increases, higher than upfront program deals made back in June.

"It seems like a better fourth quarter than a year ago," said Tim Spengler, executive vp of national broadcast for Initiative Media.

"There is some money out there."

CBS has the biggest goals, according to media agency executives, looking for $190 million to $210 million in fourth-quarter scatter money. ABC is next, targeting $130 million to $150 million. NBC--because of 13 percent under-delivery prime-time rating problems--only hopes to grab $115 million to $130 million. Fox is angling for about $65 million--which is slightly higher than a year ago at this time, all because of early ratings improvement from Major League Baseball games and new season prime-time shows. The WB is aiming for $35-$40 million for the period, say media executives. UPN is looking for $20 million in fourth-quarter scatter dollars. NBC, CBS, ABC, and UPN spokespeople wouldn't comment about any ad sales activity. Fox and WB executives didn't return phone calls by press time.



While much has been made of NBC's make-good situation, another network--CBS--could also be suffering a bit. It depends on the ratings guarantees made to advertisers. CBS is down slightly--2 percent--in its 18-49 ratings for the first three weeks of the season. If CBS made promises to advertisers saying its numbers would grow a couple of percentage points, then it will have to give up some make-good advertising time.

A year ago, media analysts estimated that the networks collectively were seeking--and got--around $400 million in advertising dollars in the fourth-quarter period. Network pricing was weak in the fourth quarter of 2004 versus the strong upfront period a few months earlier.

Networks have to make up a lot of ground. According to the most recent estimates, the upfront marketplace last June actually settled in at about $8.8 billion to $8.9 billion--down several hundred million from the upfront in 2004. Broadcast network executives only sold on around 70 percent of their prime-time inventory--which is historically on the low side.

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