Your weather forecast for TV's upfront will have clouds rolling in this week, with seasonable temperatures. Some cable networks may offer up afternoon thundershowers.
Media executives say
we should not only brace for a couple of deals drifting in by the weekend, but that a sprinkle of cable networks deals will occur at the same time as the broadcast networks. (Already Hallmark has made
its upfront deal with big media agency Starcom USA.)
In the past, one or two cable networks might make deals around the same time as the broadcast networks -- Turner Broadcasting, USA
Network or MTV Networks, for example. But now media executives expect a half-dozen or so of the top-rated networks -- including TBS, TNT, USA, A&E, FX, and Bravo -- will be making upfront deals at,
or about the same time as, the networks.
The reasons are obvious. Broadcast
are down big-time this year -- collectively 12% or so on adult 18-49 viewers, some worse than others. TV advertising sales executives say media agencies will be looking to make up those
massive viewer losses. And there is only one real way to do that -- with cable network programming, especially as they continue to offer more and more original shows. Here's the rub
for some broadcast networks: Say you are down 15% in 18-49 ratings points. In
theory, you would need to raise your CPMs about the same level -- 15% (and selling out at the same level of inventory the year before) -- to make yourself whole.
That's not likely to
happen. Best estimates, right now, are that, overall, the TV advertising broadcast upfront might be flat or perhaps down 5%, to around $8.25 billion to $8.75 billion.
Only Fox is up in
18-49 viewers, anywhere from 3% to 5%, depending on your particular set of program parameters. With that in mind, Fox will lead the market, looking to grab possibly an 8% rise in the cost per thousand
viewers (CPMs), say some executives (even though Fox is at the highest average prime-time CPM of any network).
ABC will be right behind Fox, looking for the same increases, or perhaps a
bit lower. (All that means is those networks may start their negotiations in the double-digit increase territory).
CBS and NBC will trail -- a 7% hike for CBS, and 6% or 5% gains for NBC,
according to preliminary estimates from executives. The CW, which has lost almost 20% or more of its target audience, will look to make some lower single-digit gains, if possible.
top-level syndicated programmers will move deals right behind the bigger broadcast and cable networks. After that, the other 50-odd advertising-supported cable networks would seem to be doing business
mostly in late June or early July.
Of course, the experts could be wrong. Long-term weather forecasts -- as well as guessing TV upfront markets -- are probably at best only 50% predictable.
The better bet is that, 100% of the time, the upfronts will get people nervous