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Fox Is First to Close Upfront Deals, With 9% CPM Hikes

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Rendered in bold strokes by Fox, the contours of the 2010-11 broadcast upfront have begun to take shape. Having wrapped its final piece of business on June 3, Fox’s quick and lucrative deal making set the upper limit on pricing.

At week’s end, The CW had also completed most of its business, while ABC, CBS and NBC were cutting deals at a less frenetic pace as national TV buyers caught their breath.
Various industry sources estimated that Fox commanded CPM hikes between 8.5 percent and 9 percent over ’09 pricing, an improvement that contributed to an overall volume increase of about 20 percent.

All told, Fox is believed to have brought in between $1.8 billion–$1.9 billion in prime-time commitments, the second most lucrative upfront in its 24-year history. Fox moved roughly 80 percent of its inventory, in line with historical sell-through numbers. (Hampered by the recession, last year’s bazaar was an anomaly; per analyst estimates, Fox sold some 70 percent of its airtime then.)

While Fox did not confirm any vital statistics, the network on Friday issued a statement noting that it had completed its upfront business “at volume and pricing levels consistent with our position as the number one network” among adults 18-49.

Fox entered the upfront with nothing but upside, having won the key TV demo for the sixth straight season on the broad back of its National Football League schedule, as well as the top-rated (but faltering) American Idol and hit scripted series like Glee. Demand for NFL airtime by automakers was so pronounced that Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox Broadcasting, began selling spots on Super Bowl XLV in May.

By week’s end, he had sold off a whopping 80 percent of its Super Bowl avails, all but assuring a frenzied autumn rush for the remaining avails. “If you’re a client and you were hoping for an A position in the Super Bowl, you’re out of luck,” said one ad sales chief. “Nesvig has the goods people need to have, and this gives him extraordinary leverage.”

Media agencies late last week began deploying the four-corners stall, less in a bid to quash ABC, CBS and NBC’s separate demands for higher CPMs than to take a step back and reassess the overall marketplace. The speed with which Fox sold off its upfront inventory seemed to put some buyers on their heels a bit; by slowing the tempo, agencies carved out some time to revise planning.

“Each client budget is informed by different complexities, certain proportions of prime time to daytime, broadcast to cable,” said one national TV buyer, who like nearly every executive in the thick of negotiations, spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re going to do a lot of rejiggering and replanning [over the weekend] in order to try to shift some things around.”

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