Bucks abound for Eye, Fox

NBC eyes upfront effort

NEW YORK — CBS and Fox are close to wrapping up their primetime upfront ad sales in what is shaping up to be a healthy market for network television.

With a few deals yet to wrap, Eye estimated it would take in between $2.5 billion and $2.6 billion in ad commitments for the coming TV season, up from $2.4 billion last year. Fox said sales would be $1.6 billion, the same that the network brought in last year.

Both nets claimed CPM (cost per thousand) increases in the 4% to 6% range, about the same as what ABC was able to nail down earlier in the week en route to an overall upfront haul of $2.1 billion, not counting primetime sports (Daily Variety, June 1).

The WB and UPN have not released sales figures, though industrywide, it’s assumed the WB will record a 2% to 3% increase.

“We are happy with the share-shift we are getting from NBC,” said CBS Network sales prexy Jo Ann Ross, signaling the Eye was picking up ad dollars from the Peacock. She added the network sees strength in retail, financial services and telecommunications, but weakness in pharmaceuticals and film studio advertising.

Fox Broadcasting sales prexy Jon Nesvig said its market has been “progressing nicely” and that the net expected to wrap sales Friday.

Plucked Peacock

Ross’ remarks reflect the tough job facing NBC sales execs this year.

Peacock started writing business Thursday after spending much of the week standing on the sidelines. Net has the most difficult task in this year’s upfront market — how to hang on to as much business as possible in the face of a 17% demo ratings decline from last year.

NBC finds itself with much fewer ratings points to sell this year and will have to contend with slight, or even flat, rate increases from last year. One buyer said NBC had inked “negative” deals, meaning a rollback of CPM rates.

Analysts estimate that NBC could take between $2.2 billion and $2.3 billion, $600 to $700 million below last year’s market-leading take of $2.9 billion. A spokeswoman for the net declined to comment.

“The real (question) is what NBC is going to do,” said advertising analyst Jack Myers. “The market wants them to be down; the question is how much down.”

But even assuming a steep drop-off at NBC, the overall six-network upfront should exceed last year’s $9.1 billion, a sign of health at the webs, which this year halted years of viewer erosion thanks to hits including “Desperate Housewives” and “House.”

Desperate nets?

Some media buyers disputed the assessment of an up market, saying the pricing indicates desperation. “They want to write every dollar out there; I see the market as flat, maybe a tick up,” said one buyer.

ABC kicked off the dealmaking soon after its upfront presentation. Once the Alphabet started signing deals, advertisers rushed in to get a place on the net’s hot shows and to establish CPM increases that they could carry into negotiations with the other nets.

Thanks to ABC’s CPM strategy, Madison Avenue was apparently able to hold the line on CPM increases with Fox and CBS.

“Given the very modest CPM increases, the market is probably priced correctly,” said Steve Grubbs, president of media buying firm PHD USA.

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