Fox leads Big Four nets as average blurb cost climbs 4%

If the recent healthy upfronts weren’t enough proof, new evidence arrived Wednesday that the broadcast TV biz is on the upswing. Advertisers paid 4% more in the first quarter for a 30-second primetime spot, marking the fourth straight quarter in which prices climbed or held steady.

The unit cost, an average of all pricing across primetime, rose to $108,956 per 30-second blurb, with Fox the leader, buoyed by the mass audience for “American Idol.” Its unit cost was $188,975, according to a study released Wednesday by media agency TargetCast tcm. CBS followed at $113,842; then ABC at $97,837 and finally NBC at $74,431.

Gains came even as net primetime ratings in the 25-54 demo slipped by more than 3% in the first quarter, and by 3% in the fourth quarter.

“However, last year’s upfront showed gains versus the previous year, when the market was softer, and the scatter market enjoyed great strength as the U.S. economy continued to recover,” the study said.

The high volume of inventory for the top-rated “Idol,” which runs twice a week, likely helped Fox be No. 1. A Fox spokesman declined to comment on the TargetCast report.

The fourth quarter, too, was good news for the nets. Overall unit cost gains were up 7% to $114,264. Even without “Idol” on the sked, Fox again led the way with a 30-second spot on average going for $139,931.”The robust demand for television, combined with limited available inventory due to declining ratings and delivery liabilities of the networks, drove unit prices and CPMs higher in the fourth quarter,” said Gary Carr, TargetCast’s senior veep and executive director of national broadcast.

In the past weeks, the good news continued for broadcasters. Advertiser commitments during the upfronts that closed out this month were as much as $9.3 billion by some estimates, a significant gain over the previous year. And nets reported selling more of their inventory as advertisers worried about paying more in the scatter market later on.

For cable on unit costs, TargetCast said even though ratings among viewers 25-54 were flat, channels saw a unit cost rising 19% in the first quarter to $13,100, with ESPN leading the way at $31,551, followed by TNT at $16,474. In the fourth quarter, with football on its sked, ESPN was also the clear leader with a unit price of $53,346, followed by TBS ($18,092).

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