The CW Is the First Network to Cross the Upfront Finish Line; Turner Off to a Strong Start | Adweek
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The CW Wraps Upfront Deals; Turner Joins the Fray

Digital packages boost ratings-challenged broadcaster

Katie Cassidy, 'Arrow'; CW prexy Mark Pedowitz; Kristin Kreuk, 'Beauty and the Beast'; AnnaSophia Robb, 'The Carrie Diaries' | Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CW

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The CW is the first network to finish writing its upfront business, taking in approximately $400 million to $410 million in advance commitments for the 2012-13 TV season. Volume was down slightly versus last year’s bazaar.

A joint venture between CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment, The CW averaged 7 percent CPM increases as strong demand for its converged linear-digital packages helped offset recent ratings shortfalls. This year also marked the first in which The CW bundled mobile (iPhone, Android, iPad) inventory with its linear TV units.

According to industry sources, The CW moved around 75 percent of its available ad time, on par with last year’s levels. The retail and wireless categories were said to be particularly strong for the youth-skewing programmer.

While the network saw its ratings fall 20 percent among the 18-to-34 target demo, buyers were encouraged by its new programming slate. Among the shows set to premiere in October are the brooding superhero/action series Arrow, the medical drama Emily Owens, M.D., and The Carrie Diaries, a prequel of sorts to HBO’s Sex and the City.

As The CW sales team heads to the beach, the rest of the broadcast pack is also getting close to quitting time. Fox, which is writing high single-digit CPM increases (7 percent-8 percent), is expected to wrap up its final deals by the end of this week. ABC, CBS and NBC are likely to close out in rapid succession.

Despite early indications that it would command double-digit CPM increases, CBS is accepting premiums of 9 percent. (Given that CBS is leading the market in both pricing and total dollar volume, the distinction is essentially meaningless.) ABC is said to be averaging 6 percent-7 percent price increases, while NBC is mostly writing 6 percent premiums.

Meanwhile, as the broadcasters head into the final lap, a major cable network has exploded off the starting blocks.

According to multiple sources, Turner Broadcasting System on Wednesday began writing a flurry of business with a handful of major agencies, closing around 40 percent of its upfront deals. The company is commanding high single-digit CPM increases, putting it near the high end of the marketplace.

As Turner continues to negotiate through this afternoon, it is likely that it will have completed more than half of its business before the end of the week.

Turner’s portfolio of cable networks includes TNT, TBS and the youth-skewing nighttime franchise Adult Swim. All three properties are ranked among the top 10 networks in the adults 18-to-49 demo, per Nielsen. Also delivering GRPs is truTV, which closed out the month of May ranked 14th in the dollar demo.

Along with reach, Turner’s great strength is its programming mix. TNT boasts three of the most-watched original series on basic cable (The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, Falling Skies) and is expecting a huge turnout for the June 13 premiere of Dallas. The revival of J.R. Ewing and the rest of the Southfork gang will be augmented by Dallas Round-Up, a series of live ad-supported Webisodes that will stream immediately after each installment of Dallas.

Sibling net TBS traffics in comedy, deriving its biggest ratings from the off-net acquisition The Big Bang Theory. Meanwhile, in a bid to expand beyond the three Tyler Perry sitcoms it currently airs, TBS is preparing the ground for a slate of broader originals—Men at Work, Sullivan & Son and Wedding Band—before rolling out Season 4 of the erstwhile ABC strip Cougar Town.  

Through two episodes, Men at Work is averaging 2.35 million viewers and a 1.2 rating in the 18-to-49 demo.

Live sports and studio shows are also in high demand at Turner, which owns NBA, Nascar and Major League Baseball packages and co-hosts the NCAA Men’s Div. I Basketball Tournament with CBS. (TBS is currently negotiating to extend its $1.2 billion MLB rights deal, which is set to expire in 2013.)

This upfront marks the first on the network side of the table for longtime media buyer Donna Speciale, who joined Turner in January. Her first sales night was a long one—according to one buyer, negotiations with Turner didn’t end until around 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

Viacom was the first major cable cabal to begin selling 2012-13 inventory, and as of Thursday afternoon, the MTV parent is said to be 80 percent of the way toward completion. Sources said the Viacom nets are moving quickly because it has traded pricing for volume, writing market-lagging 3 percent-4 percent CPM increases in a bid to vacuum up more dollars.

When the smoke clears, broadcasters and cable nets are expected to book some $19.5 billion in advanced commitments.  A projected $2.5 billion take for Spanish-language TV and another $2.9 billion earmarked for syndication would bring the total upfront market to a record $24.9 billion.