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Webs hold their own, despite continued erosion

NEW YORK — The broadcast advertising upfront is stronger than expected, but will probably end up with slightly lower total dollars than last year’s $6.05 billion.

NBC, CBS and UPN will do business into this week, so its difficult to gauge exactly where the upfront market will end up. Ad sales execs from three different networks had three different estimates for the total market: one said down $300 million, the second said flat and third said slightly up.

They all maintain, however, that the feared major shift of dollars from broadcast to cable did not happen to any great degree. Media buyers and cable sales execs had predicted that half a billion dollars would move from broadcast to cable — a shift has not been apparent.

“We saw people hold more money for scatter, but we didn’t see any wholesales shift to cable,” said an ad sales exec from one of the Big Four networks. But, the cable upfront market is still to come, making it impossible to know for sure where ad dollars will end up.

Last year, the entire market averaged 9% CPM increases. Early estimates this year were in the 3%-4% range.

Of the Big Four, Fox led the market with 7%-9% average cost per thousand (CPM) increases, followed by NBC (4%-6%), CBS (3%-5%) and ABC (1%-3%).

In the battle of the weblets, the WB — the only broadcast network to grow its ratings — had a banner upfront, increasing its CPMs 15%-18% and total dollars to $303 million from last year’s $150 million. The WB, which began cutting deals before the other networks, wrapped up upfront business last Thursday.

UPN was expected to be active through Wednesday morning. The weblet was said to be getting price increases at 1%-2%. Sources projected UPN would finish the upfront with $200 million in total dollars.

ABC surprised the market by eking out 1%-3% price increases. Because of its significant ratings decline, the Alphabet Network was expected to have to give back money on pricing.

“I expected a correction on ABC, but they were able to stay in positive numbers,” said an ABC competitor.

Sales execs said that despite ratings erosion across the board — with the exception of the WB — the market will almost reach last year’s total dollars because the economy has remained strong and many advertisers are increasing their budgets.

Going into the upfront, the networks had concerns that the movie and automotive categories would decrease, but sales execs reported increases in both areas. They said other strong categories were pharmaceuticals and retailers.

NBC might not equal last year’s $2.1 billion because of ratings declines and the loss of “Seinfeld” on the Peacock Network’s dominant Thursday night lineup.

“It’s a daunting task to get over $2 billion,” said one marketplace source.

One change in the upfront this year is that it proceeded at a much more orderly pace, especially when compared to the feeding frenzy atmosphere of last year, when the whole market moved in a couple days.

“The buying side set more of the pace than the networks side,” said one network sales exec. “Last year we were holding people off and setting the order to get back to them. Now there are many more options for the buyers.”

Media buyers said they were doing some cable business on Discovery, A&E, USA, TNT and TBS. However the bulk of the cable upfront has yet to move. Cable CPM increases ranged from 5% to 12%.

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