Auto, Studios Start Upfront

Fox, ABC and The CW sell a chunk of their advance avails as the market pops to life

In the wee small hours of Friday morning, a weary network ad sales executive sent a text to a colleague who, earlier that evening, had pinged him to inquire about how the upfront negotiations were faring. Time-stamped June 1, 5:07 a.m., the message read simply, “Just getting home now.”

On the face of things, it wasn’t exactly “Watson! Come here—I need you!” but for the recipient, the text was tremendously reassuring. In essence, the bleary-eyed exec who relayed the message confirmed that his team had worked through the night to close a healthy chunk of upfront business. If the early round of auto and movie dollars that began tumbling in Thursday morning evoked a steady walk, Friday night’s activity was a spirited trot. The upfront had begun.

At deadline late Friday afternoon, Fox and ABC had completed at least one-third of their respective upfront deals, establishing a steady pace for the rest of the broadcast TV field to try and emulate. Also writing early deals was the youth-targeted CW, and while CBS and NBC were said to be negotiating their own deals with buyers, neither had finalized any business as of 5 p.m.

Fox thus far is writing business at high single-digit CPM increases, while ABC is commanding premiums in the mid-to-high singles. Neither Fox nor ABC would confirm pricing estimates or how far along they were in the process.

That the market suddenly sprang to life when it did was something of a surprise, given the dearth of approved budgets in the early half of last week. The dam burst on Wednesday morning, as a sudden tide of registrations came pouring into the buying agencies. And with that, Fox jumped into action.

Fox drew first blood, writing deals with automakers—a good part of which is earmarked for its NFL package—and movie studios. As the leader in serving up adults 18-to-49 (its winning streak goes back eight seasons), Fox tends to have dibs on movie dollars. The two categories also accounted for ABC’s first commitments.

Business appeared to taper off Friday afternoon, leaving many to wonder when the pace would pick up again. That said, a handful of top-tier cable network groups also have begun seeing confirmed budgets, which suggests an orderly progression is in the offing. “We’re registered with two big agencies, and we already have an offer,” said one cable sales chief. “We could start writing business now.”

The early deals began a day after CBS chief financial officer Joseph Ianniello told investors the Tiffany Network would nab broadcast’s highest price increases. “We’re going to hold out for what we deserve,” he said.