ABC wraps strong upfront

Network's early ad sales for fall rise by 15%

ABC is the latest net to call it a day on a strong upfront frame, leaving NBC as the last of the Big Four still on the field.

While the Peacock has had a harder time squeezing out rate increases than its rivals, it is expected to be done with its upfront wrangling by week’s end.

The Alphabet wrapped its dealmaking with an estimated $2.4 billion in advance bookings for blurbs in the upcoming season. That’s a gain of at least 15% over last year’s haul.

The sales include ABC’s primetime, daytime and latenight dayparts, but not its college football games or other sports telecasts, nor does it include big-ticket specials like the Academy Awards.

ABC logged CPM gains of about 8%-9% — in line with the prices commanded by Fox and CBS. Like the competish, ABC was said to have sold about 80% of its available inventory, unlike last year when the nets held back more time as ad buyers insisted on big rate cuts amid a bleak economic outlook.

Overall, this year’s upfront marks a good start for Geri Wang, the 20-year Alphabet vet who was promoted to prexy of advertising sales and marketing at the net in February (Daily Variety, Feb. 18). The net’s development slate seemed well received by buyers, particularly the frosh Wednesday laffer “Better Together” and drama “Detroit 1-8-7.” which landed the post-“Dancing With the Stars” slot on Tuesday

Although the broadcast nets and major cablers have been quick to tout the robust upfront market — as they breathe a huge sigh of relief — media buyers caution that business is really only getting back to where it was about two years ago.

“Last year at this time spending was down 15 to 20 percent and the world was coming to an end,” said Gary Carr, senior veep and exec director of national broadcast for media agency TargetCast. “Things are almost back to normal. The money is coming back to where it was a couple of years ago.”

Fox, CBS and ABC in particular pushed hard on generating big CPM hikes after last year’s bloodbath, when rates were slashed 5%-10%, the first such drop in more than a decade. But the truth is that the nets can only push so hard these days because cable has become such an attractive option.

“If this was five or six years ago maybe they would have gotten double-digit increases, but the networks can’t afford to take these tough stances any more. Double-digit increases are red flags (for ad buyers). They just make everyone angry.”

As for NBC’s situation, Carr said he was surprised the Peacock was not more aggressive at the outset, given the network’s weak competitive position compared to its rivals. Fox got the market moving right after the Memorial Day weekend when it began writing business to make the most of the pent-up demand for upfront deals.

“If Fox is getting 8-9% (increases), nobody’s going to pay more for NBC,” Carr said.

Now that the broadcasters are basically done, media buyers’ attention will turn to the cable and syndie markets. The biggest of the basic cable pack — USA, TNT and TBS — have already been cutting deals.

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