Upfront Sales Begin With Fox First to Deal

In contrast to last year, the TV upfront marketplace began in earnest today, a little more than a week after the broadcast networks unveiled their new fall schedules.

Sources said that Fox has already closed several major ad buys at rates significantly higher — in the high single digits on a percentage basis — than last year’s upfront prices. (Fox’s hit series Glee is shown.)

NBC and CBS are also said to be talking to numerous advertisers about deals. A CBS rep confirmed the network is in “active negotiations and things are going well.”  

Earlier this year, CBS CEO Les Moonves said he intended to obtain “double-digit” price increases, though the network rep did not specify whether “going well” meant that CBS and buyers had agreed to such terms.

On Wednesday, Moonves will be speaking at a Sanford Bernstein media conference and will likely respond to questions about how the upfront is proceeding.

A source familiar with the situation at NBC said salespeople are having “lots of conversations” with ad buyers and marketers. No details yet on pricing or closed deals, however.

No word yet on the status of talks between marketers and ABC.

The CW is said to be in the “early stages” of talks with buyers, according to sources.

This year’s market has gotten off to a fast start, certainly in comparison to last year when networks didn’t start doing deals until mid-June, and didn’t wrap up selling until late August. This year, buyers and sellers have indicated the market could be wrapped by July 4 or sooner.

Last year’s market was hampered by the recession, when many marketers cut their budgets and there was a lot of haggling over prices, which decreased for the major broadcast networks by at least single-digit percentages.

The networks only sold about 65 percent of their inventory last year in the upfront, 10 percent to 15 percent less than normal. As a result, they had more inventory to sell in scatter, which commanded rates this year between 20 percent to 30 percent higher than upfront prices.

This year’s early market is spurred by an ad economy that continues to improve. Advertisers generally have more money to spend and the total pool of dollars is expected to be between 10 percent and 15 percent higher than last year and more in line with non-recession years.