Inside Move: Upfront is no holiday

Sales see slow start; UPN, CBS expected to show gains

NEW YORK — Network sales execs and media buyers will probably want to cancel their Memorial Day plans, with this year’s upfront selling market looking like it’s going to extend through the holiday — if it even gets started by then.

Last year, media buyers rushed the gates of the broadcast nets almost as soon as the upfront presentations were over. Not so this time, as media agencies continue to hold early discussions with sales reps, mull over pilots and study ratings research on new shows, not to mention talk with their clients.

No one is forecasting when the selling will kick off, but net execs and media buyers say it could get under way as early as the end of the week. Likewise, media buyers are staying mum about what kind of increases they’ll be willing to pay the nets.

By all accounts, the broadcast nets won’t see the kind of collective increases they saw last year, with advertisers warning that they are going to divert money to other media, such as cable and the Internet.

One veteran media buyer is predicting that while NBC will still take in the most money, CBS could be the only one of the four major nets taking in more money than it did last year. Weblet UPN, which, like CBS, is owned by Viacom, also is expected to show impressive gains over last year.

After the disastrous 2003 fall launch, advertisers are surely feeling in a better position to stand their ground.

Generally speaking, media buyers are feeling OK about the new TV sked, saying there are a handful of promising shows. Also, they welcome the introduction of the 52-week schedule and particularly commended Fox for its year-round multiple skeds.

Whether it all works is another matter, they say, but at least Fox is trying something different in an era when the broadcast biz desperately needs a new business model.