Upfront market may see record sales biz

TV ad market could hit high of $6.8 billion

NEW YORK — Primetime sales could climb up to 10% over last year to a record $6.8 billion, insiders say as TV’s annual upfront ad market speeds toward the finish line. Predictions of increases between 10% and 15% in the CPM (cost per thousand) help suggest a very healthy upfront market.

With ad packages moving faster than Darth Maul action figures at the local Toys ‘R’ Us, some optimistic sellers and buyers were predicting the majority of business could be written as soon as late today, though with virtually every daypart moving simultaneously, a sizable number of sales will likely still take place next week.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox seem to be asking for — and largely getting — double-digit CPM increases, though some deals will likely go for high single-digit increases. Virtually every category of ad spending is said to be up, with packaged goods, financial services, retail and pharmaceuticals said to be doing particularly well, according to buyers.

“There’s no question the market is healthy,” said Tim Spangler, a top exec at Western Intl. Media in Los Angeles. “Most categories are up.”

About the only category not reporting increases: movie studios. “There are less releases out there, so studios seem to be holding back,” one buyer said.

Because of the unpredictability of pic release dates, studios are major players in the last-minute scatter market, making any decline in the upfront barely a blip on the overall market.

NBC will once again lead the market in total billings, though insiders say that with fewer eyeballs to guarantee advertisers, the Peacock will have to struggle to improve upon last year’s take of just over $2.1 billion.

Some insiders believe NBC may sell more than the usual 80% of their ad inventory during the upfront season, pushing up total billings and allowing the Peacock to surpass last year’s levels. Because of high demand, other nets may sell a greater percentage of ad inventory in the upfront market.

Should that happen, next year’s scatter market could be particularly tight, pushing webs’ overall billings even higher.

ABC, CBS and Fox are all said to be doing “very well” and will almost certainly end up billing more upfront dollars than last year.

The strong pace of this year’s market began with the WB, which, coming off a lower base unit price and a stellar 1998-99 season, scored whammo increases in the 30% range (Daily Variety, May 26), and with the exception of “a few stragglers,” has completed its preseason selling, one insider said.

While it’s too early for reliable final estimates of the WB’s total take, ad industry insiders said they wouldn’t be surprised if the WB collects as much as $400 million in the upfront market, a hefty increase over last year’s take of just over $300 million.

The WB is holding back inventory for the scatter market — a reversal of the net’s recent strategy — which means the net’s overall ad coin collection for the 1999-2000 season should be able to meet weblet CEO Jamie Kellner’s pre-upfront predictions of $450 million.

One distinguishing aspect of this year’s market seems to be the unusually large number of multi-daypart package buys. Both webs and buyers seem to be linking primetime ad inventory with dayparts, such as ayem news, daytime and evening news.

A Madison Avenue vet said nets are trying to boost prices for less sought after dayparts, such as sports and daytime, by pairing those avails together with the red-hot primetime inventory.

NBC is putting a different twist on the strategy by packaging its new 9 a.m. daytime talker “Later Today” with its ayem news juggernaut “Today,” selling the two shows together as a package. While that might mean accepting slightly lower CPM increases for “Today,” the net result should be more ad coin.

Ad agency sources say webs have also started moving latenight inventory, fetching CPM increases of between 8-12%. Daytime is also moving, though with slightly lower CPM hikes.