NBC Lags Behind Upfront Pace

NEW YORK The broadcast prime-time upfront marketplace is moving at a steady, methodical pace today, with five of the six networks writing significant business.

ABC has sold virtually all of its upfront inventory, CBS has written about one-third of its for-sale inventory, as has sibling network UPN, which is being sold in conjunction.

The WB is also near the one-third mark in selling its prime-time inventory, and Fox was beginning to write business. Only NBC has not written any upfront business, according to media agencies and industry sources.

ABC did its deals at an average cost-per-thousand rate increase of between 5 percent and 6 percent, while CBS and UPN have been cutting deals in the 4-5 percent range. Fox, meanwhile, was doing early deals falling between 3 percent and 4 percent CPM increases, and the WB was in the 2-3 percent range.

While the WB was able to write business at positive CPM increases, despite coming off ratings declines this season, agencies were taking a harder line with NBC, the other network to suffer hefty ratings shortfalls this season. One major media agency executive posited that NBC might be forced to roll back its rates. That hard line being taken against NBC is the principal reason the network had not written any business.

ABC, which had some of the hottest new shows on television this season, was seen as the network that would set the ceiling on CPM-hike percentages advertisers would pay in this upfront. The network’s decision to be the first to write its prime-time upfront business, at relatively modest CPM gains, surprised some industry observers who thought the network might try to capitalize on its double-digit ratings increases this season.