"I don't think it's bottomed out yet," says Ira Berger, director of national broadcast for the Dallas-based Richards Group.
"What I really want to see is the second quarter," says Gary Carr, senior vice president of broadcast services for TargetCast TCM. "People can take a lot more [back]." In the second quarter, TV advertisers can cancel up to 50% of their upfront deals. Usually, advertisers need to let networks know what their second-quarter cancellation plans are by mid-January.
Marketers can cancel 25% in the first quarter, which media analysts say for 2009 was at slightly higher levels than a year ago. This would be considered good news in light of a quickly deteriorating economy.
The second quarter is a big test for many reasons--specifically because TV buyers and sellers make projections for the upfront market that moves in May/June.
"CPMs are higher [in the second quarter] than other periods," says Carr. "It's right near upfront. It's a good barometer. There is a lot more impact."
Fourth-quarter 2008 scatter period pricing is still in a tailspin, with networks in some cases selling at 5% to 30% below upfront pricing. For many networks, that is good news, considering that there isn't much inventory to sell. Networks sold a heavier-than-normal amount of network prime-time inventory--75% to 80%--in last June's upfront market.
One media buyer says CBS recently sold $5 million worth of prime-time scatter inventory. But it's not known at what pricing.
Recently Les Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS, was asked at the UBS media conference about the current national TV ad market conditions. "If the scatter market was as strong as it should be, we'd be able to capitalize on that more," Moonves said. "The good news about that is we have zero makegoods. And whatever is coming in the scatter market, we are getting the bulk of that... Scatter pricing is basically flat with what the upfront is. We're seeing some increase in scatter as we get to the holidays--not as strong as we would like it to be."
Media buyers are saying that network sales executives are doing everything they can to maintain upfront pricing 'integrity', which means not selling programming during the scatter period for less than programming was sold during last June's upfront period.
The big-ticket TV program for the first quarter is the Super Bowl, which has yet to be affected by the worsening economy. But many media executives note that come January, things could change, when many advertisers typically look to make adjustments to their Super Bowl buys--that is, looking to get out of their commitments. In addition, it is not known how well NBC has sold its pre-game advertising inventory.
Right now, estimates are that NBC has only eight to 10 spots left to sell in the game. Reports say NBC has made many deals at $3 million for a 30-second commercial.
While these results would be some of the highest for a network airing the Super Bowl, one media executive says that last year, Fox--which aired the Super Bowl--was virtually done in December.
NBC made big announcements about its progress with the Super Bowl, all before the financial and economic conditions went south. "But I haven't heard much about how they have done since September," says one media buyer.
NBC executives did not return emails and phone calls concerning the Super Bowl by press time.