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Fox kickstarts upfront sales

Top-rated net books first commitments; sources say ABC writing biz

Fox is once again leading the charge in upfront sales, as the network kickstarted its dealmaking Thursday afternoon in response to strong demand for TV time.

ABC also began writing business Thursday, closing a couple of smaller-scale deals, sources said.

Fox reps declined to comment, but industry sources said the network was commanding healthy CPM increases in the high single-digit range compared to last year’s upfront pricing.

With Fox opening the floodgates, the Big Four broadcast nets, the CW and the largest basic cablers will wheel and deal on more than $20 billion worth of advertising time in the next few weeks. The Big Four alone are expected to command about $9.5 billion in upfront coin, according to a forecast issued in April by Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente.

The upfront sales frenzy that follows the end of the traditional broadcast TV season is an annual TV biz ritual when media buyers book advance commitments for ad time across the upcoming season. With bulk purchases made long in advance, buyers aim to drive a better price from the networks than they might be able to land later in the season.

The broadcast nets typically sell out 70%-80% of available inventory across all dayparts during the upfront period. The remaining time is sold throughout the year in the so-called scatter market, where price can fluctuate widely according to supply and demand. For the past 12 months, scatter market pricing for TV time has been very strong, a scenario that always encourages media buyers to try to grab more real estate through upfront deals.

CBS is understood to be in active discussions on prospective deals but had not yet formally started writing business. NBC is in the same position, sources said.

As the No. 1 network in adults 18-49, it’s no surprise that Fox would be a first mover in upfront sales, as it was last year.

Fox’s initial deals are largely concentrated on movie studio purchases and automakers — two of the network’s most important categories that have very time-sensitive marketing needs.

The Barclays forecast predicted that CBS would lead in total dollars with a 10% gain to $2.92 billion, with ABC climbing 5.8% to $2.65 billion. Fox (which programs fewer hours than its rivals) should jump up 2.1% to $2.15 billion in upfront sales, with NBC up 1.4% to $1.78 billion.

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