Low Expectations For TV Upfront

Rival media moguls Sumner Redstone, Gerald Levin, Michael Eisner and Barry Diller agreed Thursday that television’s upcoming advertising upfronts will be weak, but they were divided on the wider impact on their companies.

Speaking during a panel discussion at a media investment conference organized by Credit Suisse First Boston, Viacom chairman and CEO Redstone said that while overall upfront sales might be weak, media companies would benefit from a strong rebound in advertising demand in the second half of the year.

Upfront sales — where advertisers traditionally book large blocks of network and cable ad space for the year ahead — are under way this month. The demand for that space is seen as the weakest in several years, as a slowing economy combines with a cyclical downturn in a postelection, post-Olympic Games year in which the Internet economy — the major factor driving ad growth during the past 18 months — has also gone bust.

“We are convinced there will be a turnaround in the second half,” Redstone said, adding that Viacom expected an acceleration of overall economic growth later this year. “Advertising has always led (economic growth data). We can’t be sure, but we believe that ad spending will again lead the economy back in the second half.”