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TV Networks Dive Into Upfront Ad Derby

Fox doing the pace-setting among the Big Four

TV’s upfront marketplace has started to move. And once again, Fox is doing the pace-setting among the Big Four networks.

The annual sales frenzy during which big TV networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory got under way in earnest last week, on the heels of the long Memorial Day weekend. The early kickoff is a sign of strong demand and an indication that haggling over price won’t be drawn out, as is sometimes the case.

Industry execs said Fox and ABC appear to be farthest along in terms of talking to clients and agencies, and registering budgets, though all the TV players are actively holding discussions. People familiar with the situation said Fox had made some early deals, with ABC believed to have done the same. The Big Four nets and CW are expected to book around $9 billion this year.

The same sources said Fox was initially asking for CPM hikes of 8%, or in some cases, slightly higher. The bid is similar to Fox’s asking point in last year’s discussions, when the network secured CPM increases of between 7% and 9%. Coming off a tough season of ratings declines, Fox is looking for a rebound this fall with high-profile new comedies, including Seth MacFarlane’s live-action laffer “Dads.”

Ad buyers expect most of the broadcast networks to seek CPM increases in the high-single-digit percentage range, though they cautioned the volume of dollars available for broadcast TV is “probably down more than people had initially estimated,” in the words of one buying executive. Advertisers are giving more serious consideration this year to cable alternatives as well as digital content.

Cable networks are also making their pitches, ad buyers said, with Time Warner’s Turner group already in discussions with agencies.

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