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Latenight ad sales on rise

NEW YORK — Broadcast networks are wrapping up the last of their upfront sales with modest gains in the late-fringe daypart.

Sales of latenight time are expected to rise to about $450 million for next season, up from a bit more than $400 million last year, with cost-per-thousand (CPM) increases in the 4% to 8% range.

The main propeller of growth is ABC’s “Politically Incorrect,” which moved over from cable’s Comedy Central last January and didn’t generate much excitement in last year’s upfront. With decent ratings and lessened fears of objectionable content, the half-hour show generated sales of about $30 million in the current market, sources said, with significant rate hikes over early pricing this season.

Peacock on top

Since “Nightline” is sold separately as a news buy, ABC remains a minor player in the daypart, and NBC again reigned supreme. Stronger ratings for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Saturday Night Live” gave NBC a $250 million to $275 million take, with CPM gains of 5% to 8%.

Slipping ratings for CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” gave CBS a lower $150 million haul for the daypart, which also includes “Late, Late Show With Tom Snyder,” and CPM increases of 4% to 5%, vs. 10% last year.

Firstrun additions

After a few years of softness, the late-fringe syndication marketplace also gained from two new firstrun projects, Columbia TriStar Television’s “Vibe” and Buena Vista Television’s “Keenen Ivory Wayans,” both skedded for latenight in most markets with strong clearances. But buyers were divided on how much impact they’ll have on the market, and some questioned whether the staying power of these unproven franchises compared with road-tested off-network sitcoms.

“We’re looking at late fringe as having been revitalized,” said Tim Duncan, exec director of the Advertiser Syndicated Television Assn., which estimates that both “Vibe” and “Keenen” attracted $50 million apiece in ad commitments. The total late-fringe outlook for barter syndication is $98 million for calendar 1998, up from $54 million in 1997, but the improvement remains far below totals of 1995 and 1996, when a spate of off-net series fueled growth.

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