CBS Wraps Upfront Sales with Volume Flat From 2012

Eye opts for CPM gains of 7.5% in a move likely to influence the overall market

Les Moonves CBS Upfront
Brian To/FilmMagic

CBS has largely completed its upfront sales, notching ad commitments estimated to be on par with the $2.5 billion to $2.75 billion it secured in 2012, according to a person familiar with negotiations. And the network’s efforts could have a significant impact on the rest of the market.

CBS has been very quiet about its progress in this year’s upfront, the annual ad sales session when the nation’s TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. According to one ad buyer, CBS has tried to be “cooperative” this year, not pressing hard on a particular rate of increase, but rather attempting to strike a mutually beneficial deal.

The network has struck the majority of its deals calling for a rise in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewer – a measure known as a CPM – at about 7.5%, this person said. CBS sold a little less than 80% of its inventory for the coming season, on par with last year’s efforts, this person said. CBS saw strong demand from pharmaceutical advertisers, financial-services marketers and tech advertisers.

Two ad buying executives with knowledge of the market did not think CBS had completely finished its sales process and indicated they had not finalized terms with the Eye, suggesting negotiations remained in flux.

CBS’s upfront performance could undermine efforts underway at both NBC and ABC to secure higher rates. ABC has been seeking CPM increases  of 7% to 8%, while the Peacock  has sought 8% or more. If CBS, which was the most watched network in the recently-completed season as well as the net most watched by the audience advertisers covet most – people between 18 and 49 – secured deals at 7.5%, then it’s unlikely ABC and NBC, whose ratings performance was not as robust, would be able to secure higher rates. It’s more reasonable to assume the two networks would tuck underneath CBS’ rate.

In public remarks, Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS Corp., has said that his network should lead upfront deals in both price and volume.

In the 2013 upfront, advertisers have balked at paying higher rates of increase than they did in 2012. Fox has written business with CPMs rising 5% to 7%, after securing price hikes of 7% to 9% in 2012. The CW, which is the only other network said to be complete with its upfront sales, sought CPM increases of 5% to 6%, compared with  5.5% to 6.5% in 2012.

CBS has also bolstered that trend. While it did deals at around 7.5% in 2013, it secured CPM increases of between 8% and 9% in 2012.