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Jockeying at gate

Hot ad market may push cable to early start

With the advertising climate “as strong as battery acid,” the cable upfront is likely to move before the broadcasters do their deals, according to Turner Broadcasting president and chief operating officer Steven Heyer. That move would be a first.

Touting cable and Turner to investors at the PaineWebber media conference in New York, Heyer also anticipated Turner-owned nets will post a revenue jump of at least 20% and perhaps as high as 40% in the next upfront marketplace — following a 30% increase at the last one.

At least one network executive, however, believes it’s more likely that the broadcast and cable upfront markets will break at the same time.

Ad execs think it’s likely a roaring economy combined with cable’s flexibility in the sales process may indeed allow the industry to sell part or all of its commercial time before broadcasters this time around and that such a shift would be unprecedented.

“The real issue is that the cable guys are more flexible. There’s nothing stopping them from selling in February, March or April,” said BBDO’s Steve Grubbs.

The broadcast upfront, usually held in the second half of May, is tied to the introduction of the networks’ new fall lineup.

Apples and oranges

But Grubbs stressed that cable and broadcast are two separate marketplaces and that advertisers allocate a certain portion of their budgets to each. He doesn’t see any significant incremental benefit to cable for getting in first. “They may think so, but I don’t,” he said. “Particularly if they’re trying to set the price point at something advertisers think is unreasonable.”

CBS’ David Poltrack, exec VP of planning and research, noted that the ad agencies continue to rely more on new optimization tools, which allocate television weight to get an advertiser’s message in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

“Because of the high demand across all media, cable and network, the agencies seeking to optimize their investments will need good pricing information on everyone,” Poltrack said.

“They’ll wait until they see broadcast pricing and cable pricing before they can use their optimizers,” he continued. “We’re likely to see two markets simultaneously rather than one market precede the other.”

(Michael Schneider in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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