Cable’s Upfront Dollars Fell 6% To $9.6B, First Slump In 4 Years

Advertisers committed fewer dollars to national cable TV networks for the first time since before the 2009-2010 TV season, according to data released Thursday by  the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

National cable networks secured $9.6 billion in advance advertising commitments in the most recent “upfront” market, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. The figure represents a 6% reduction, or about $577 million, in outlays from the $10.2 billion earmarked for cable networks for the 2013-2014 season. the CAB said. And the shortfall puts cable’s current take for “upfront” dollars back to just below levels secured for  the 2012-2013 season.

CAB attributed the dip  to clients holding onto TV ad dollars longer, so that they could align ad spending with immediate business needs, rather than committing to advertise long before product launches and marketing initiatives had been scheduled.  “Several big-spending advertisers stated that they anticipated spending fewer ad dollars in this year’s Upfront, and nearly all cited increased flexibility as their reason why,” said CAB President and CEO Sean Cunningham in a prepared statement. “Cable networks are meeting this instinct for immediacy with multiscreen brand programs around hit shows.”

The trade group’s official upfront tally mirrors that of the upfront market for broadcast, which saw ad commitments fall to  between $8.17 billion and $8.94 billion for this autumn’s broadcast primetime schedule, according to Variety estimates, compared with between $8.6 billion and $9.2 billion in 2013.

In past upfront sessions, cable has been able to steal some share from broadcast. because its networks typically reach smaller, niche audiences that cost less to reach. But the recent figures suggest that, just like broadcast, cable networks have begun to vie with advertisers’ burgeoning interest in video streamed on mobile devices, laptops and desktops and via television through broadband distribution.

The shortfall comes after four years of advertisers committing more dollars for advertising on cable. Upfront commitments for the medium  rose 19% for the 2010-2011 season, 16% for the 2011-2012 season, 5$ for the 2012-2013 season and 4.3% for the 2013-2014 season, according to CAB.


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