Upfront sales standoff hitting unprecedented territory

Is there a break coming soon in the upfront sales standoff?

NBC is close to finishing a deal with media buyer Group M that has been percolating for weeks.

NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman said Wednesday at a media confab in Pasadena that the Group M deal had closed, but Peacock execs quickly clarified that the deal was “close” to being finalized.

NBC is believed to the only Big Four to be actively writing business, albeit at a slow pace. For the other nets, the upfront sales standoff is heading into unprecedented territory as July draws to a close. Typically, the Big Four nets have booked the bulk of their advance advertising commitments for the coming season by mid to late June. This year, buyers and sellers are playing hardball, as advertisers seek steep discounts from last season’s ad rates while the nets are committed to hold the line at declines of no more than 2-3 percent.

NBC’s Group M deal is said to have averaged rate declines of about 7 percent compared to last year.

Silverman, speaking at the Brainstorm Tech confab hosted by Fortune mag, accentuated the positive by noting that the declines “have not been anything close to what had been forecast.” He would not get more specific.

But Silverman did say it was clear that NBC and other nets would hold back more inventory than the 80-85 percent sold in years past in order to have more to sell in the short-term scatter market. Silverman said NBC was counting on big brands like General Motors having to come back into the ad market in a big way next year.

“We’re all collectively as a broadcasting business playing for that return” of demand among top marketers, Silverman said.

In talking to reporters later, Silverman said that ad dealmaking for NBC had to pick up “because we’re at a point where we’re eight weeks away” from the fall season launch. NBC has been emphasizing elaborate product integration deals on its shows, which means that plans need to be set as new and returning shows go into production in the coming weeks.

Silverman noted that NBC has cut a deal with McDonald’s for “The Jay Leno Show” that calls for a wide ranging marketing relationship between the show and the fast food giant. Deal involves the promotion of McDonald’s $1 million Monopoly sweepstakes game in “Leno” and other Peacock shows.

Disney CEO Bob Iger was pressed by reporters at the confab about the status of upfront sales, but the Mouse House boss refused to comment, citing the quiet period leading up to Disney’s July 30 earnings announcement.

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