Advertising sales boosts network

The CW may have been the biggest beneficiary of the better-than-expected upfront advertising sales market that broke loose last week for the broadcast nets.

CW wrapped up its dealmaking on advance advertising commitments for the 2008-09 season Friday with a take of about $350 million-$370 million, industry insiders said. NBC concluded its broadcast business on Thursday with $1.9 billion; Fox, ABC and CBS were expected to be finished with primetime sales by mid-week at the latest.

CW rang up significantly less than the estimated $600 million-$620 million it booked last year, but a number of things have changed for the netlet during the past year.

First and foremost, CW has 30% less inventory on the table this year, after dropping five hours on Sunday with its deal to outsource programming on that night to Media Rights Capital (Daily Variety, May 12).

And CW went into this year’s upfront with a tough sell in terms of ratings performance. In the strike-interrupted 2007-08 season, viewership sank by 20% in total viewers and by 26% in its target adults 18-34 demo.

With less inventory to leverage and no ratings story to speak of, CW was in a “great position to get fleeced,” as one rival network ad sales exec observed. But advertisers bucked convention wisdom of just a month ago by committing to TV in a big way, even as overall marketing budgets are being curtailed, in many cases, as a hedge against the economic slowdown. Upfront sales also offer value-pricing deals and guaranteed ratings delivery, unlike the fluctuating prices of spots bought during the regular season in the scatter market.

These factors, combined with general enthusiasm among buyers for CW’s 2008-09 sked and its planned “90210” update, allowed the netlet to command 8% rate increases for its Monday-Friday primetime spots. CW also still has a hand in selling the time for the Sunday block that MRC will take over in September, so the net’s final tally of ad revenue will increase when that money is eventually factored in.

Theatrical pics, retail outlets, wireless service providers and health and beauty products were said to be the key advertiser categories driving CW sales.

“We are pleased,” said a CW spokesman, who declined further comment.

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