TV’s ‘Upfront’ Ad-Sales Talks Start to Heat Up

TV’s “upfront” marketplace may be gaining traction, though media-buying executives and other people familiar with the tone of these annual negotiations for billions of dollars of TV-advertising inventory caution that talk of serious activity may be overstated.

While all the TV companies are believed to be in active negotiations with advertisers, NBCUniversal and CBS are said to have begun securing advance advertising commitments, according to people familiar with the situation. CBS’s sales effort is in its early stages, one of these people said, while NBCU has been selling both cable and broadcast. Both networks have pressed for deals that call for increases in the rate of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is integral to these yearly discussions between Madison Avenue and the U.S. TV networks.

Several ad buyers could not corroborate the reports of sales activity, and some indicated that the overall market had yet to move in earnest.

The signals of activity come as TV networks and advertisers grapple with a marketplace that has grown increasingly complex, despite heightened demand for TV advertising in recent months. Media companies are trying to package cable, broadcast and digital inventory at once, as advertisers seek to create broader campaigns that reach consumers through TV advertising, mobile tablets and social media, among other types of outreach. Ad buyers, meanwhile, are trying to tamp down the rate hikes their clients have to pay even as ratings declines and new demands for TV time from  certain advertisers put pressure on the available supply.

Indeed, the networks and ad buyers have been at loggerheads for several weeks over the rate of increase that ought to be paid. Initial bids from the networks called for double-digit CPM increases – some as much as 15% or higher, according to ad buyers. Advertisers, meanwhile, have expressed a desire to pay CPM increases of just 4% to 5%. Many buying executives have made a hard point of not wanting to agree to increases of more than 9%, though one of the people familiar with discussions said that CBS pressed for some agreements that call for hikes in the low double-digit percentage range.

Expectations have been high for this year’s market, which may be the first in several years to move in the TV networks’ favor. The networks lost leverage over the past few years, and saw their ability to increase the rates of increase for TV time erode as more advertisers experimented with streaming video as well as content and programming from new digital players. The five English-language broadcast networks secured between $8.02 billion and $8.69 billion for their 2015-16 primetime entertainment schedules, according to Variety estimates, compared with between $8.17 billion and $8.94 billion for the 2014-15 season.

In 2016, NBCUniversal has moved aggressively in discussions about rates, according to multiple executives, so much so that some buyers said they were frustrated by the terms the company has tried to set. These people said NBCU is working, as it has for the past several years, to reverse declines in its base rate for reaching 1,000 viewers. Those CPMs are said to be significantly less than those commanded by Fox, CBS and ABC, and are the result of years of ratings shortfalls that took place as NBC failed to find solid replacements for programs like “E.R.,” “Seinfeld, “Frasier” and other must-see TV delights that gave it years of top ratings and a command position that lasted into last decade.

NBC’s luster these days rests on its “Sunday Night Football” franchise as well as “The Voice,” and the addition of a handful of “Thursday Night Football” games in the coming season. The network’s parent company has also placed more emphasis on its portfolio of news, late-night, sports and general-entertainment cable options, and has its coming broadcast of the Rio Olympics, another big-viewing property to dangle in front of sponsors.

Ad buyers have suggested that TV budgets are flat to slightly up for the coming programming season, with movie studios and auto manufacturers among the categories trimming TV-ad money. Consumer packaged goods companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, meanwhile, are said to be shifting money back to TV after several years of placing new emphasis on digital.

More TV

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Whiskey Tango Cavalier

    TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier'

    The crux of “Whiskey Cavalier” can be found right in its protagonist’s name. “Will Chase” is a purposefully ridiculous wink of a name that tries to be both debonair and very silly all at once, just like the FBI agent (played by Scott Foley) to which it belongs. This isn’t a regular spy drama, “Whiskey [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Malik Yoba to Reprise Role in 'New York Undercover' Reboot at ABC

    Malik Yoba, who starred as Detective J.C. Williams in the 90s show “New York Undercover,” is set to reprise the role in the ABC reboot, sources tell Variety. Picking up 20 years after the end of the original series, “New York Undercover” will follow detectives Nat Gilmore and Melissa Ortiz as they investigate the city’s [...]

  • Chris Burrous dead KTLA anchor

    KTLA Anchor Chris Burrous' Cause of Death Released

    An investigative report on KTLA anchor Chris Burrous has determined that his cause of death was attributed to methamphetamine toxicity, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Burrous, 43, was found unconscious at a motel in Glendale, Calif on December 27, and later died at the hospital. The death has been ruled as accidental. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: Rabbit in the

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Feb. 11: 'Masked Singer' Easily Tops Competition

    Fox’s “The Masked Singer” was the highest-rated broadcast show of the week in both Live+Same Day and Live+3. For the week of Feb. 11, the unscripted singing competition series went from a 2.4 rating in adults 18-49 to a 3.4, a rise of 42%. In total viewers, the show went from 7.8 million viewers to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content