Fox Sets Market as Rivals Grouse; Cable on Deck

Fox's freshman sales chief draws praise and barbs for early market play

Mere days after Fox got the upfront rolling, what promised to be an orderly, well-mannered process became a little punchy.

Perhaps it was the sudden rash of midsummer humidity that had ad sales executives all hot and bothered last week, or maybe it had something to do with the disappointing employment figures for May and their subsequent drag on the stock market. Whatever the case, by midweek the TV ad market’s emotional climate was decidedly unsettled.

At the center of all the sturm and drang was Fox ad sales president Toby Byrne. Longtime Fox sales president Jon Nesvig’s handpicked successor navigated his first solo upfront flight like an ace, securing 11 percent CPM increases and moving 80 percent of Fox’s 2011-12 inventory. While Fox did not furnish volume estimates, sources eyeballed the network’s year-over-year dollar increase at around 10 percent.

If that number holds up, Fox will have closed its upfront business having nailed down around $2.2 billion in advance commitments.

“He did one hell of a read,” says one sales captain. “He got his numbers, he whipped up a lot of business for the new show [The X Factor], and he set the stage for everyone else. Good for him.”

But rival broadcast executives found Byrne’s performance to be less than rich. The grousing began as soon as word got out that Fox was writing those 11 percent premiums; sales bosses looking for richer price hikes fretted that Byrne had lowballed the market. As a result, the other four networks could be victims of the Fox precedent.

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