Fox, CW finish ad sales

ABC, CBS and NBC still in upfront talks

With Fox and CW calling it a wrap for upfront sales, the biz’s attention turns this week to the hard bargaining by CBS, ABC and NBC in their negotiations with media buyers.

Turner Broadcasting is also driving hard for premium rates by cabler standards this time around, in recognition of the megabucks investments the Time Warner wing has made in programming in recent weeks.

Turner caused a stir last week in demanding broadcast-level latenight ad rates, in the low five-figure range, for Conan O’Brien’s upcoming TBS yakker. By many accounts, media buyers balked at Turner’s asking price, but there is no doubt that pricetag for TBS’ latenight inventory will soar in the back of its aggressive move with O’Brien.

CBS, ABC and NBC wrote some business last week but at a slower pace than Fox, which confirmed Friday that it had concluded its upfront negotiations.

Fox is believed to have booked about $1.8 billion-$1.9 billion in ad sales for the upcoming season, at rate hikes averaging out to about 9% over last year. The net sold about 80% of its blurb inventory, about 10% more than it booked in last year’s depressed market.

The major broadcast and cable nets typically sell as much as 70% to 80% of their ad inventory for the coming season during the upfront market that closely follows the end of the previous season. Demand for time in this year’s upfront has been strong, giving the nets a much stronger hand to play with Madison Avenue than last year when ad spending was being slashed amid deteriorating economic conditions.

Jitters about unemployment in the U.S. and shaky economies in Europe have tempered some of this year’s enthusiasm among marketers. But the Big Four nets and CW are still expected to finish out with a significant increase in revenue from the roughly $8 billion they collectively booked in last year’s upfront.

Fox kicked off the market early last week. The net moved quickly to cut deals as media buyers returned from Memorial Day weekend, setting the tone for the negotiations on CPM increases.

There’s been some grousing among rivals that Fox moved too quickly and that the Big Four should have collectively stood firm for even higher increases. Fox’s focus was said to be on grabbing a greater share of the available dollars at solid rate increases from last year, given its standing as the No. 1 network in adults 18-49 for six consecutive seasons.

Fox said in a statement Friday that its sales concluded at “volume and pricing levels consistent with our position as the No. 1 network.”

CBS and ABC, meanwhile, are said to be pushing hard for rate increases in some top-tier programming of 10% or more. The Eye, which ranks as the most-watched network in total viewers, in particular has been taking a hard line on pricing. That stance has slowed down some of its dealmaking, but execs were still knee-deep in negotiations well into Friday night, insiders said.

NBC is fighting an uphill battle on rate increases, biz observers said, given its weak base and its tough assignment of launching a dozen scripted series in the coming season. The Peacock, which has been cutting deals, is expected to see rate increases that are lower than its Big Four rivals but still upward of 5% gains over last year. NBC Universal’s sales force is also focused on selling time for NBC plus its cable siblings, which makes for more drawn-out negotiations, insiders said.

CW is said to have taken in $350 million-$370 million, with rate hikes averaging around 7.5%. The netlet this year put the emphasis on packaging TV time with spots in online plays of its signature skeins. CW’s volume was believed to be at least 75%, if not higher.

Rob Tuck, CW’s exec veep of national sales, said demand was strong in all of the net’s target ad categories, including retail, autos, wireless service providers plus health and beauty. The net that takes aim at the 18-34 demo had a good response from buyers to its new actioner “Nikita,” starring Maggie Q.

“Our convergence initiative has been a resounding success with the advertising community,” Tuck said in a statement. “The vast majority of our clients have bought both on-air and full episode streaming online.”

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