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Viacom Sees Flat Volume in TV’s Upfront Market

Viacom relied on Madison Avenue’s interest in new forms of video advertising to drive activity in the industry’s annual “upfront” market, but captured a level of advance commitments that was similar to last year’s benchmarks, a signal that the current ad market is proving more robust for broadcast TV than it is for cable.

The New York owner of Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV secured a volume of advance ad commitments that was flat with last year’s, according to a person familiar with the matter, even as it saw media buyers double the commitments they made to the company’s digital and social outlets as well as to its growing advanced advertising business.

Other cable programmers have experienced similar dynamics. WarnerMedia, the owner of cable outlets like TNT, TBS and CNN, saw advertisers spend approximately the same amount on traditional linear TV as they did last year, according to a person familiar with the situation, even as they increased the emphasis they placed on new forms of content. Each year during TV’s “upfront” market, U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for the coming programming cycle.

The results emerge as many of the broadcast networks have seen surges in demand for their primetime schedules, with NBC seeing a volume increase of approximately 8%CBS notching a volume increase of between 5% and 6%, and Fox capturing an increase in volume of between 8% and 9%. Disney has been taking more time to sell its inventory, according to executives familiar with negotiations, with its recent acquisition of the bulk of the former 21st Century Fox creating new complexities for its sales process.

Viacom faced some challenges in its sales process, according to people familiar with this year’s talks. Advertisers rushed to some of TV’s biggest venues for audience, ready to pay sizable price increases in exchange for getting ads in front of the medium’s bigger audiences. But recent declines in viewership – the result of audiences migrating to new streaming-video outlets – mean the cost of reaching viewers is increasing. As rates increased, advertisers had less to spend after doing business with the owners of the most successful content, and some of that dynamic has crimped cable’s ability to keep ad money flowing.

Even so, Viacom was able to secure double-digit increases in the rate it charged to reach 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is integral to these annual discussions between Madison Avenue and TV networks. The company notches some of its highest CPM rates in over a decade, according to the person familiar with the matter.

Viacom highlighted a suite of “advanced” advertising capabilities, including the opportunity to use data to reach narrower cuts of demographic with commercial schedules. the company also spotlighted growing initiatives that make use of influencers, branded content and experiential efforts. Viacom for the first time sold advertising for its advertising supported streaming-video outlet, Pluto TV. Advertisers showed interest in the venue, particularly in some recently launched channels on the service that are based on the company’s popular cable outlets.

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