NBC wraps upfront primetime sales

Network meets expectations amid low ratings

NBC wrapped its upfront primetime sales by booking an expected $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion, managing to match last year’s total despite decreased ratings.

NBC U started the upfront deal-making with a nearly $1 billion pact with media-buying firm Group M, which included cable as well as broadcast and helped establish commercial ratings “live plus three” as the de facto industry standard.

NBC said ad rate increases came in at 5% to 6%, a vast increase from last year when the network took price cuts after coming in fourth in the ratings for a second consecutive year.

The Peacock was able to match last year’s take, despite lower ratings again this year, due to a confluence of factors.

Demand for television was reasonably strong this year after several years of weakness. Also, money shifted back to the upfront from the last-minute “scatter” market because prices for scatter rose higher than advertisers expected during the spring.

“We’re extremely pleased with the result; clients responded to our willingness to work with them in ways that extended beyond the 30-second spot and also saw value in the entire NBC U portfolio,” NBC U sales prexy Mike Pilot said.

NBC’s wrap concludes the network upfront, aside for the CW, which is still negotiating with the major agencies.

The emerging consensus is that commercial ratings have helped the broadcast networks somewhat in their battle for dollars with cable because ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox retain more of their viewers during the commercials than the top cable networks.

“I’d say the demand for network television is stable — and that’s a victory,” said Jason Maltby, president of national broadcast at MindShare.

Now the major buying firms turn to cable, where a battle over commercial ratings looms. Cable retains about 90% of its aud during commercials, on average, compared with 95% for broadcast TV. Some younger-skewing networks, such as Viacom’s MTV and VH1, have poor commercial retention rates and those networks are digging in their heels on commercial ratings.

“Cable is inherently a niche medium; some nets do fine, and other nets don’t translate as well,” Maltby said.

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