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Nets crowing over upfront blurb derby

ORLANDO, Fla. — Network sellers seemed pleased with their take in the annual upfront ad derby, with total sales in primetime estimated at about $6.2 billion, about 8.8% ahead of last year’s $5.7 billion.

“For all the attacks going on by everybody lobbing grenades into the network tent, this is a pretty strong affirmation of the power of broadcasting, and not listening to these cable fables,” said Jon Nesvig, Fox Broadcasting’s sales president, referring to cable webs’ efforts to up their share of ad dollars.

In the final tallies expected by week’s end, as reported, NBC was expected to do $2.1 billion, up from $2 billion; Fox $1.1 billion, vs. $975 million; and CBS $1.25 billion, vs. $1.2 billion, according to several media buyers and networks (Daily Variety, June 4).

Buyers had figured that ABC wrote at most $1.45 billion, down $100 million from last year, but ABC disputes that estimate, claiming it actually increased sales to $1.6 billion, a slight increase from $1.55 billion last year, by accepting cost-per-thousand (CPM) hikes of 7% to 9%, lower than its rivals.

“We all did very well,” said Marvin Goldsmith, sales prexy at ABC. “While we lost some share on movies and car business, which we expected, we wrote more business in package goods.”

Much of the swing totals depended on how much of the year’s ad inventory each network sold. Upfront sales represent the majority of a season’s ad volume, but NBC sold about 78% of its total, holding back the rest for future “scatter” sales throughout the year, while Fox sold 85% and ABC was also in that range. So comparisons of upfront dollar volumes aren’t always directly comparable.

CBS’ total also was weakened by the Winter Olympics, worth another $550 million in sports inventory that isn’t counted in primetime estimates. But sales president Joe Abruzzese said the network won $130 million in entirely new business from car and movie advertisers, reflecting confidence in CBS Entertainment prexy Leslie Moonves’ primetime schedule.

As reported, ad agency execs said CBS benefited from that optimism, while ABC suffered its share declines on the heels of a 14% ratings drop and uncertain prospects for recovering its slippage.

Average cost-per-thousand increases for the Eye web and Fox were 10% to 12%, while NBC took 12% to 14%.

As for the weblets, the WB claimed $150 million, up from $100 million, and UPN claimed a shade more than $135 million, up from $90 million.

Some buyers believed both estimates were a bit on the high side, but if accurate they would represent significant increases. Each weblet plans to add a fourth night of programming in early 1998.

UPN sales chief Perri Stein said UPN increased its number of individual advertisers by 50%, and booked CPM gains from renewing clients by as much as 18% off of low base rates.

“We’ve completely adjusted our mix to compete with all the other networks,” she said. WB claimed 12% to 14% CPM gains. UPN has a new inhouse ad unit, which improved on orders formerly taken by Paramount’s syndication sales unit.

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