Broadcast Upfront Holds Steady At $8.4 Billion

The networks got some good news at the upfront--relatively speaking. Merrill Lynch's Jessica Reif Cohen, perhaps Wall Street's most influential analyst of the state of broadcast television, placed a final book value on the upfront. In a report released Wednesday, she tagged the six-network upfront at $8.41 billion--a 1 percent decline from a year ago.

Reif Cohen's slight decline was in line with other projections that pegged the market down only .5 percent, although those forecasts attached a higher volume count: $9.1 billion.

Reif Cohen's figures could be viewed as a victory for broadcast television--since the upfront moved more slowly than in years past, with buyers looking to temper demand. Plus, prominent advertisers--such as Johnson & Johnson and Coke--delayed participation, while some advertisers apparently held dollars back for digital opportunities that may emerge over the next year.

Another positive sign for the broadcasters: The UPN-WB merger (forming The CW) and the formation of MyNetworkTV did not lead to a major overall dollar drop, per Reif Cohen. Volume increases at Fox and ABC partially offset the declines caused by the reshuffling with The CW and MNTV. Reif Cohen placed ABC's volume take at $2 billion--a $50 million jump from a year ago--and Fox at $1.7 billion, which is $100 million more than 2005.



Overall for the Big 4 networks, Reif Cohen said they increased volume by 2 percent. Credit the increases at ABC and Fox, since CBS and NBC pulled in the same numbers as a year ago. The increases were also in line with season ratings' performances, as Fox and ABC saw jumps in the key 18-to-49 demo in regularly scheduled programming. Fox also benefited from a commanding lead in the 18-to-34 demo.

Even with flat volume, CBS pulled in $2.2 billion, more dollars than any network for the second year in a row. Struggling NBC was flat at $1.84 billion, although Reif Cohen wrote that it "outperformed initial expectations" with some legerdemain that included selling more inventory and leveraging its new "Sunday Night Football" package.

The CW took in $630 million, while MNTV--which says it is still selling--is estimated by Reif Cohen to eventually take in $50 million. UPN and The WB took in $920 million together a year ago.

Reif Cohen's breakdown on CPMs was largely in line with press reports: Fox and ABC pulled in increases in the 2 percent range, while CBS was flat, and NBC dropped 5 percent. The CW, which bills itself as offering a mélange of the most desirable programming from its two predecessors, garnered a 1 percent CPM jump over The WB.

One caveat: Reif Cohen noted in her report that upfront commitments in June don't always equate to final tallies come fall, due to advertisers' reshuffling their dollar pledges. "These estimates tend to be a moving target, as firm commitments from advertisers are not due until the start of the new season in late September/early October," she wrote, "and numbers can therefore change."

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