Turner Wraps Upfront Sales

After a final flurry of business late Monday night, Turner Entertainment has wrapped its 2009-10 upfront deals, locking in CPM increases between 9-10 percent above last year’s pricing.

Demand for the TBS, TNT and truTV was high, as the entertainment suite boosted overall ad sales volume by as much as 20 percent versus the 2009-10 bazaar.

Other Turner properties are still in play, according to ad sales chief David Levy. “It’s still too early to share details, but we’re seeing strength within Adult Swim and Cartoon Network, as well as news with CNN,” said Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System. “These networks are all in a strong position to garner their fair share of upfront commitments.”

Turner closed its final upfront deal a few days after NBC Universal and Viacom crossed the finish line. Discovery Communications is also very close to sewing its upfront business and could be done before the end of the day. A&E Networks, Fox Cable Networks and Comcast Networks are expected to wrap up their respective negotiations with media agencies before the end of the week, closing the door on the upfront a good two weeks before the previously anticipated July 4 end date.

(As is usually the case, Scripps Networks is proceeding at a very measured pace. The parent of Food Network and HGTV is almost always the last major cable player to hammer out its upfront deals, a quirk that has less to do with pricing and demand than with the number of integrated sponsorship opportunities it develops for its clients.)

All told, cable volume could be up between 18-20 percent, with the bulk of business being written at premiums of between 8-9 percent over last year’s recession-cramped pricing. Total commitments could add up to between $7.79 billion and $7.92 billion.

According to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, last year’s cable upfront was down 13 percent to $6.6 billion, a decline that reflected advertiser pullback and a shift to scatter spending. In 2008, cable nets landed $7.65 billion in upfront commitments.

Scatter pricing in the first and second quarter of 2010 was well over year-ago levels; coupled with an improving economic outlook, that inflation accounted for the big shift in sponsor dollars. Cable also remains a relative bargain versus broadcast, with prime time CPMs priced at nearly one-third of what the Big Four can command.

“Clients continue to value the brands and programming foundation we have built for TBS, TNT and truTV, as well as our ability to develop integrated marketing partnerships that deliver value for their marketing messages,” Levy said. “We are appreciative that our advertising partners continue to trust and support our three distinct, branded entertainment networks. We are also gratified because these increases are an expression of confidence in our portfolio.”