ABC and The CW Follow Fox Onto Upfront Track

While Fox draws near finish line, two other nets make first moves

Charlie's Angels Credit: ABC/NATHAN BELL


As Fox sprints toward the finish line, ABC and the CW have just exploded off the blocks, taking their first strides onto the upfront track.

Sources on Tuesday said that ABC began cutting its first deals late this afternoon. The CW has been active since late Tuesday morning.

ABC closed out the season ranked third among the demo, averaging a 2.5 rating/7 share, or 3.2 million viewers 18-49, in prime time. That marks a 7 percent decline from the 2009-10 campaign. ABC also finished third in overall deliveries, drawing an average nightly audience of 8.48 million viewers, per Nielsen.

While it may seem counterintuitive that broadcasters can command greater sums for airtime while their ratings decline, the TV marketplace adheres to basic supply-and-demand principles. As viewers drop off––some to cable networks, others to digital platforms (gaming, social media, streaming video)––they effectively remove supply. The fewer viewers in the demo, the fewer GRPs on offer, which leads to a higher cost to reach the remaining viewers in the sample.

With a seven percent decline in GRPs, and an estimated five percent uptick in demand, ABC should comfortably write CPM increases of at least 10 percent. Buyers cautioned that any assessment of how ABC will fare on pricing is premature, given that the networks are dealing from an lazily shuffled deck.

“They have the luxury of counting the house before they start dealing,” said one national TV buyer. “They ask to see the budgets ahead of time, while we really can only speak with any certainty to what our own clients have planned. It’s a lot easier for the networks to project who’s holding back money and who isn’t, and that’s a big advantage.”

While ABC as of late Tuesday afternoon had but a few deals in hand, analysts believe the network is poised to rake in at least $2.65 billion in upfront commitments, a gain of 10 percent versus last season’s bazaar. Along with the No. 1 comedy among adults 18-49––Modern Family averaged 4.94 million members of the demo in its sophomore run––ABC also puts up big numbers with Dancing with the Stars, Grey’s Anatomy, The Bachelor and Desperate Housewives.

That said, the two dramas are growing a little long in the tooth. Desperate Housewives bowed in October 2004, while Grey’s debuted as a mid-season replacement the following March. Together, the shows have been on the air for 305 episodes.

ABC has received high marks for some of its upcoming programming, as buyers said its Charlie’s Angels reboot has the potential to replicate the success of CBS’ newfangled Hawaii Five-0. Of course, the impulse to revisit classic TV series also has been rewarded with failure; witness NBC’s widely uncelebrated Bionic Woman (2007) and Knight Rider (2008-09) remakes.

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