On the short end

Ad waters rough for shifting nets

As the upfront marketplace sputters toward the finish line, the broadcast webs appear to have lost close to $300 million from last year — largely due to the merger of UPN and the WB.

It hasn’t been an easy upfront season for anyone. Over at NBC, a fire sale on ad spots and the newly acquired “Sunday Night Football” allowed the Peacock to squeeze out $1.9 billion in advertising commitments for the coming season — about the same as last year’s tally.

CBS is expected to lead the market in total dollars for the second straight year with $2.4 billion, but that’s $200 million less than last year’s tally — the result of flat pricing, lower ratings and aging shows.

And ABC is having to fight hard with agencies to get increases in a year of tighter budgets. Alphabet was the only network with substantial inventory left to sell as of Monday night, as Fox (which will finish at around $1.8 billion) had also wrapped up sales.

NBC managed to avoid seeing its upfront dollar commitments drop for a second year in a row, but only because of its NFL package — as well as its decision to sell a higher percentage of its ad inventory.

Peacock cut its advertising rates between 5% and 6% but sold more spots in upfront (leaving less room for the scatter market) in order to make up for a shortfall in ratings.

The network, which ended last season again in fourth place among adults 18-49, was also able to remain flat vs. last year thanks to $200 million committed to its new football package.

But the NFL isn’t usually counted in primetime upfront tallies — ABC drew fire for adding “Monday Night Football” to its total a few years ago. Without its new “Sunday Night Football” franchise, NBC billed $1.7 billion for its remaining 18 hours of primetime fare.

NBC replaced its failing Sunday night lineup with the four hours of the NFL and related programming for 16 weeks in the fall, enabling it to book significantly more revenue on the night.

Still, it came at a cost: NBC is paying a hefty license fee — $600 million per year — to carry the NFL.

NBC’s tally remains a far cry from the $2.9 billion the net billed in 2004. Last year, the Peacock had to absorb a $900 million hit for finishing in fourth place after a decade of ratings dominance.

Close to $200 million of NBC’s take was tied to deals that included digital buys on NBC U properties.

NBC wrapped up its upfront sales Monday, joining Fox and the CW, which finished theirs last week. CBS also is believed to be very close to concluding its sales. One major buying firm said it had wrapped up all its deals with the Eye.

Beyond the demise of the two weblets, the lackluster marketplace was also blamed on diminished ratings and more advertisers willing to hold marketing dollars back to spend later in the year.

It didn’t help that this fall’s crop of new series has so far failed to elicit any significant buzz.

With the biggest primetime hits, ABC and Fox will register increases in total dollars coming out of the upfronts.

Driven by hit shows “24,” “House” and “American Idol,” Fox’s $1.8 billion tally repped a $200 million increase over last year. Fox programs seven fewer hours a week than ABC, CBS and NBC.

Meanwhile, ABC is expected to book $2.2 billion, with rate increases of 1% to 2%, up from its $2.1 billion tally a year ago.

ABC came into the upfront with relatively low ad rates held over from its cellar-dwelling years, but has still had to fight hard with the agencies to get increases in a year of tighter budgets.

The Disney-owned net came into the upfront with the hottest shows — including “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is moving to a pivotal Thursday slot — and played hardball with advertisers to get as close to 4% rate increases as possible.

CBS held back some inventory in hopes that it could pick up additional business as talks proceed between ABC and Madison Avenue.

Among weblets, the CW sold just shy of $650 million, sources said, while Fox’s upstart MyNetworkTV had booked $50 million in ad commitments.

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