Upfront: Numbers on Upswing

The 2002-03 prime-time broadcast TV season’s upfront marketplace could total $7.6 billion when buying is completed by week’s end, media buyers and network executives said. That would represent an in-crease of $700 million or more than 10 percent over last year’s $6.9 billion, and more than half way back to the networks’ re cord $8.1 billion take in 2000.

In all, as much as 40 percent, or $3 billion of all broadcast prime-time up front dollars, were expected to be sold by the six networks by last weekend.

Network executives said they weren’t surprised by the turna round, but most media buyers claimed they were caught off guard.

“Things are a lot stronger than we thought they would be,” said one media buyer. “Most agencies didn’t have all their client budgets in until early last week, and many of the early-submitted budgets were flat to up only a few percent. Plus, some new clients for each agency, who didn’t last year, decided to buy in the upfront.”

Categories driving the increased dollars include movies, retail, automotive and telecommunications. “Those categories are hotter than a firecracker,” said one buyer.

Helping to fuel the early ad-dollar influx was OMD’s cross-platform deal with Walt Disney Co., worth $1 billion-plus across all Disney media properties, which was expected to be done by last weekend. The one-year deal would begin this fall and allocate money from some 100 OMD clients to Disney cable, broad cast, radio, print, syndication and Inter net units.

OMD managing partner Dan Rank would not discuss the deal, but sources indi cated it includes spending of at least $300 million on ABC, $80 million on Disney-owned Lifetime and $150 million on ESPN.

Although Merrill Lynch and Sal omon Smith Barney forecast only low, single-digit growth in upfront spending, ad-industry analysts are adjusting their total 2002 adspend forecasts upward. Merrill Lynch is now estimating a 0.4 percent gain over 2001, up from a 1.5 percent decline. Lehman Bros. also raised its domestic-spending expectations, up from 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent.