It’s the cablers turn now

Aggressive nets offer ad buyers extras

Madison Avenue glommed on to the comfortable and familiar last week, ponying up generous dollars for the programming lineups of TNT (led by “Law & Order”), TBS (“Seinfeld” and “Friends”) and USA (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”).

The Big Three of general-entertainment cable nets, TNT, TBS and USA — boasting about the originals they schedule alongside reruns — blanketed media buyers, timing their sales strategy to the winding down of the broadcast network upfront.

The blueprint proved reasonably successful for the cable nets, at least in part because they settled for increases between 2% and 4% in CPMs. (As an industry standard, CPM refers to the dollar figure a buyer shells out for a thousand viewers in a particular demo category.) Those increases parallel the average gains chalked up by the six broadcast nets, which completed their upfronts late last week.

For the rest of the cablers in the upfront, “business is getting done,” says Charlie Collier, exec VP of ad sales for Court TV. “But there’s no forced momentum, and no one is acting harried or feeling worried about getting left behind.”

Bob Flood, senior VP and director of national electronic media for Optimedia, says the most aggressive of the cablers are offering advertisers lots of extras.

ESPN is adding its radio network, magazine, Web site and on-demand platform to the media-buyer mix. Others are inviting advertisers to integrate their products into the content of the shows as one way to combat TiVo users who treat commercial breaks as a mandate to ply the fast-forward button.

Cablers are pushing these add-ons because they’re worried that the $7 billion in ad dollars they were expecting to flow into the upfront may fall short. Since last year’s cable upfront harvested about $6.5 billion, a $7 billion spending spree this year would yield a strapping 9% increase.

But some of the usual suspects like the auto and drug companies are holding back.

Cablers that have attracted more viewers in recent months may still be able to put the bite on advertisers: Lifetime, which has made Monday nights a showplace for original movies; Fox News Channel, which continues to ace its all-news cable rivals, particularly in the primetime Nielsens; Spike, which is thriving on multiple reruns of “CSI”; and Sci Fi, which is basking in the radioactive glow of three prosperous scripted series (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Stargate Atlantis” and “Stargate SG-1”).

Others likely to emerge from the upfront with satisfied smiles are A&E, which has used snarky reality series (“Dog, the Bounty Hunter,” “Airline”) to lower its average age; ABC Family, which is drawing young women with its theatrical and TV movies; Comedy Central, which regularly finishes in the top 10 among young adults; AMC, which pumped up its movie ratings when it shoved aside golden oldies for fresher theatricals; FX, which schedules the most boundary-pushing scripted series (“The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me”) this side of HBO; TV Land, which slaps a new shine on old sitcoms through marketing and promotion; and Hallmark, the family-friendly network whose stock in trade is original mystery movies.

Madison Avenue is not reluctant to shower dollar rewards on cable networks that use fresher programming to draw people back to their TV sets.

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