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CW Writes Upfront Deals As Mild Price Hikes Hold Sway

CBS, NBC seen pressing for higher rates of increase

The CW has begun to write business as part of the annual “upfront” ad-sales session, as advertisers continue to show initial favor to those TV networks willing to seek moderate price increases.

The CW has been seeking increases of between 5% and 6% for CPMs, or the cost of reaching 1,000 people that is a measure used in these annual talks between TV networks and advertisers, according to a person familiar with the network’s process. In last year’s upfront talks, the CW sought CPMs of between 5.5% and 6.5%. The CW is owned jointly by CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.

While all the broadcast networks are in the midst of negotiations, the ones who have begun to write significant business are those who have been more tempered in the rate of increase they have sought. News Corp.’s Fox, which saw ratings decline in the past season, has been writing business with CPM increases set between 5% and 7%, according to ad buyers and other people familiar with the negotiations. In 2012, Fox generated CPM hikes of between 7% and 9%.

ABC has written some small amount of business, several executives said, but is not far into its process. The Walt Disney network has been seeking CPM increases of between 7% and 8%, according to buyers and other executives. In 2012, ABC sought increases of 6% to 8%.

Whether advertisers will agree to more significant increases remains to be seen. Indeed, executives on both sides of the table have suggested the upfront market is working its way through a bit of gridlock, as buyers hold fast against any CPM hike that would take their clients above a mid-single-digit percentage increase.

NBC has been seeking CPMs of 8% or more, a figure that has surprised some ad buyers who have noticed a significant amount of churn in the Peacock’s prime-time schedule in the recently completed season. NBCUniversal has placed a sales spotlight on so-called “package” deals that include a broad variety of ad opportunities across its broadcast and cable outlets and is making the case that its broadcast prime-time schedule for fall will show improvement over past ratings-challenged seasons. One ad-buying executive said sponsors were being “methodical” when considering the NBCU pitch.

CBS is likely to press for the highest CPM increase among the broadcast networks. The Eye is using its current status as most-watched network and most popular among the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic to make the case for a significant price hike.

One cable executive said the expectation is for CBS to take the lead on pricing, with ABC and NBC attempting to tuck underneath that figure. Several people familiar with cable ad sales said the majority of cablers have not made significant progress in writing “upfront” business as of yet.

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