TV networks continue to fare better than expected in the current “upfront” market as they harness streaming video and sports — and a willingness to accept lower rates — in order to keep Madison Avenue’s money flowing.
NBCUniversal said it wrapped its negotiations in the annual upfront, and could see advance advertising commitments for NBC’s primetime schedule rise by as much as 20%. Variety estimates that upfront commitments for NBC primetime could total between $3.2 billion and $3.4 billion, compared to between $2.68 billion and $2.98 billion for its primetime broadcast inventory in 2021. In 2020, NBC secured between $2.68 billion and $2.84 billion.
Haggling takes place in a tricky economy. The networks have largely agreed to take narrower pricing hikes than last year, according to multiple people familiar with the negotiations. Why? Because they realize that the threat of a recession and supply-chain issues have left their clients with less visibility into the future. Tech giant Microsoft indicated it would sit out this year’s upfront, and auto advertisers pulled back. Many of the networks sought increases of between 8% and 12% — compared with hikes of more than 20% last year — in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is critical to these annual negotiations between advertisers and TV networks.
Demand was driven in part by advertisers’ interest in streaming, as it has been at other media companies. NBCUniversal said digital ad commitments rose by nearly 20% compared with last year’s market, with around $1 billion in commitments earmarked for its streaming service Peacock. Sports also proved alluring, with marketers interested in the NFL and World Cup.
But some activity was due to certain categories of advertisers loosening their purse strings. NBCUniversal said travel advertisers, eager to court consumers in a post-pandemic era, committed 30% more than they had last year. Pharmaceutical advertisers spent more than most other sectors, NBCU said, with an increase of nearly 40% in commitments. NBCU also saw strong buying activity from marketers in the retail, fast food, consumer products, technology, social media and streaming categories.
In a statement, Linda Yaccarino (above, pictured), global chairman of the company’s ad sales and partnerships unit, credited the company’s ability to sell many different kinds of advertising inventory in a single portfolio as a critical factor in activity. “Whether it’s advertising technology and data, an ad-supported streaming service, premium content opportunities founded on our iconic IP, we deliver a comprehensive one-video ecosystem that yields impact for all our partners,” she said.
NBCU’s disclosure comes a few weeks after CEO Jeff Shell indicated that the market for TV advertising had started to soften. Speaking at an investor conference, Shell projected NBCU’s upfront activity would be “in the same range as last year,” noting that audience declines due to “cord-cutting were offset by pricing and Peacock for us.” Shell also said TV’s so-called “scatter” advertising market, when sponsors buy commercial inventory much closer to air date, was less robust than in the recent past, noting that it is “definitely weaker than it was last week, last month, last year.”
NBCU also sought to get clients to consider new methods of measuring the audiences that form the foundation of many ad deals. The company has tilted frequently at Nielsen, often the currency behind upfront negotiations, and has even aligned with rival iSpot, in hopes of devising alternate currencies. NBCU said more than 40% of its upfront deals relied on things other than traditional age and gender parameters, compared with about 20% last year.