Buyers Mull Upfront

After a record $8.27 billion was committed to the 2002-03 schedule in last week’s broadcast TV prime-time upfront, media buyers are asking how and why it happened. And they’re hoping for a measure of payback by year’s end.

The final tally was a whopping 20 percent—or $1.4 billion—more than last year. Buyers attributed this to several factors.

Advertiser ad budgets were up about 3 percent, adding about $200 million to the upfront marketplace. What’s more, an additional $400 million spent in the scatter market this year was moved back into the upfront for next season. And the networks sold more this year: about 7 percent more than last year, adding $500 million more to the total marketplace.

With so much already sold, however, most networks have only 15 to 17 percent of their commercial time left to sell for the 2002-03 season.

“The networks right now are all sold out for next season. They just don’t realize it yet,” said one network sales executive. “A network projecting 10 percent ratings increases may wind up down 5 percent, and if that happens with only 15 percent inventory left, they could be out of business for the year.”

“All the money committed is not going to be spent. It never is,” said Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Global Group’s Mediacom. “You can count on $300 to $400 million falling out when advertisers have to turn their holds to actual orders.”

The final upfront sales totals for each network are NBC, $2.7 billion; CBS, $1.92 billion; ABC, $1.55 billion; Fox, $1.3 billion; WB, $550 million; and UPN, $250 million.