Mel out front on upfront

Viacom exec expects CBS to rank second in revs

LAS VEGAS — No blinking!

That was the message from Viacom prexy-chief operating officer Mel Karmazin, who is counting on the nets to hold their ground on price increases this year as the upfront ad market opens.

Last year’s upfront broke after NBC started offering reduced rates, forcing its rivals to follow suit. This year, Karmazin said, he hopes “NBC has the integrity and belief in its schedule to command higher pricing.”

Speaking Thursday at CBS’ affiliates meeting in Las Vegas, Karmazin said he was “guardedly optimistic” that the CBS television network will wind up ranking second in upfront revenue among the networks once upfront ad sales get rolling.

CBS has trailed both NBC and ABC for years in upfront intake, due to the net’s older skew. But ABC is expected to take a major hit with advertisers this season.

Karmazin continued to make an upbeat assessment on the state of the ad market, stressing Viacom’s recent “dramatic improvements” among several of its businesses.

“From today, it looks like things are getting better,” he said.

Karmazin also said Viacom’s cross-sales and marketing unit Viacom Plus has made two advertising pacts, “one big and one small.” Execs would not divulge details, but insiders indicated an announcement is forthcoming. Viacom Plus is the unit that forged last year’s ad deal with Procter & Gamble worth some $300 million.

Meanwhile, Karmazin said he expects to add more duopolies to Viacom’s television station group, encouraged affiliates to embrace the transition from analog to digital television (and keep an open dialogue about how to best exploit the digital spectrum) and said he recognized affil concerns about the future of “The Early Show,” compensation, repurposing and ownership caps.

“There are issues on which we’re at different sides of the table,” he said. “But there are so many more issues where we’re totally in line.”

CBS will again hold an affiliates meeting next year in Las Vegas, on the Wednesday and Thursday following Memorial Day.