UPN flat upfront

Sales less rosy than reported; some prices down

NEW YORK — UPN’s performance in the recently completed advertising upfront was not as rosy as previously thought, according to sources close to the weblet and media buyers.

Ad sales sources at UPN floated a figure of $200 million and price increases in the mid-single digits. However, UPN’s actual upfront take was closer to $135 million-$140 million, which means the weblet was flat with last year’s upfront performance.

In addition, some buyers reported paying prices that were flat or slightly less than last year.

A UPN spokesman said the weblet never comments about upfront money.

Exec’s departure

Another UPN issue that caught media buyers’ attention was the awkward timing of the departure of UPN account executive Rich Forester, who quit right after the upfront to join Spanish-language network Univision as an account executive.

“Of course, it’s not a good thing that (he) was looking for a job during the upfront,” a UPN insider said.

UPN’s sales staff, headed by senior VP Perri Stein, was selling the first schedule put together by the weblet’s new president Dean Valentine. Under Valentine, UPN is aggressively expanding from three nights a week to five.

Valentine is trying to shift UPN’s target audience from young, urban viewers to a broader, middle American audience. Media buyers, however, gave UPN mixed reviews on its fall schedule.

Rival’s success

UPN’s sales staff’s task has been made more difficult because the weblet’s ratings decreased from last season and it also lost some national penetration because of affiliate switchouts. Compounding the problem is the perceived success of competing weblet the WB, which increased its upfront ad sales to $300 million from $150 million last year.

Until this year, UPN had higher ratings and was considered the superior weblet.

“As far as the weblets go, everybody’s in love with the WB because people think they’ve got hot shows and UPN doesn’t,” said Gary Carr, senior VP, group director, national broadcast and programming for Ammirati Puris Lintas.

One UPN show that media buyers did praise uniformly was “Legacy.”

The UPN representative maintained that Valentine was more than satisfied with his sales staff’s upfront performance, but sources close to the weblet said Valentine was not pleased.

“Dean wasn’t happy and he wants to know why agencies aren’t buying him,” a source close to UPN said.

Valentine declined to comment.

Last upfront, sources close to UPN said, the network made the mistake of selling too much inventory, and when the schedule didn’t generate ratings the network had very little inventory left to sell in the scatter market. The source said there could be a similar problem this year.

No other personnel moves have been made UPN’s ad sales department, but an inside source said, “There are more changes to come.”