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Upfronts: CW Wraps Ad Sales With Flat Volume (EXCLUSIVE)

Net books $400 million-$420 million in advance commitments for 2013-14 season

The CW has wrapped its upfront sales process, securing a level of advance advertising commitments for the 2013-14 season that is flat with its performance in both 2012 and 2011, according to a person familiar with the network.

The CW notched between $400 million and $420 million in commitments from advertisers, an amount similar to what it won from advertisers in its past two upfront efforts. The network sold approximately 75% of its inventory, the person familiar with the situation said,  reserving the rest of its time to be sold as so-called “scatter” advertsing, or ad time sold closer to purchase date.  The CW sold a similar amount of inventory in last year’s upfront.

The CW secured CPM increases, or increases in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, of between 5% and 6%, according to the person familiar with the matter. In a sign that TV networks are operating with less leverage in the annual pre-season advertising negotiations, the network’s CPMs this year were slightly below the 5.5% to 6.5% it negotiated in 2012 and significantly below the 10% to 12% it established in 2011.

In its pitch to advertisers, the CW offered “converged” measures that take into account not just traditional TV viewership, but also viewers who watch its shows on its web site, cwtv.com, as well as with its mobile apps, according to the person familiar with the situation.

The network also emphasized programs with sci-fi or supernatural elements, including “The Tomorrow People” and the “Vampire Diaries” spinoff “The Originals.” These new shows are expected to help broaden its audience beyond young women along with returning programs such as “Arrow,” “Vampire Diaries” and “Supernatural.”

The CW is the first to publicly acknowledge the completion of its upfront sales. Last year, it made a similar announcement on June 7. The CW has a smaller amount of ad inventory to sell than the Big Four – it typically does not air original programming on weekends and it only airs two hours of prime-time programming on weeknights.

News Corp.’s Fox has also made progress in upfront sales, according to buyers and other people familiar with the situation. Fox is selling ad time with CPM increases said to come in at 5% to 7%, lower than the 7% to 9% it secured in 2012. Fox has experienced a significant decline in ratings this season, owing in part to the performance of its venerable “American Idol.”

ABC, NBC and CBS are all in the midst of negotiations with advertisers, but are not believed to have written a significant amount of business. ABC has been seeking CPM increases of 7% to 8%, while NBC has been seeking CPM increases of 8% or more. Ad buyers say they are determined not to agree to outsize increases in the wake of general broadcast-sector ratings declines in the recently completed season.

Ad dollars secured in the upfront are promised, but not necessarily paid. Advertisers can trim their commitments later in the year depending on program and scheduling changes or their own financial criteria.

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