Networks Ready to Cash In

Combined haul for broadcast, cable to hit $18.5 billion in upfronts

With about three weeks to go before the broadcasters unveil their 2011-12 upfront slates, you don’t exactly have to place a call to Dionne Warwick and the old Psychic Friends Network to figure out that the TV networks are going to make a killing.

According to a new forecast issued by analyst Anthony DiClemente of Barclays Capital, the Big Four broadcasters are likely to increase their upfront commitments by 7.5 percent year-over-year to $9.23 billion, beating the previous high-water mark of $8.8 billion in the 2008-09 bazaar.

DiClemente sees CBS leading the market with sales of $3.01 billion, for a gain of 15.6 percent from a year ago. ABC’s sales should rise by as much as 12 percent to $2.68 billion, while Fox will see a 6.4 percent lift, taking in $2.11 billion.

With NBC expected to move less inventory than its peers, The Comcast owned network should experience a concomitant decline in dollar volume. DiClemente is forecasting a 10.7 percent drop for the Peacock, with upfront orders adding up to $1.43 billion.

The analysis on NBC presents a strict supply-and-demand conclusion: With season household ratings down 19 percent through April 17, and 18-49 deliveries off 15.1 percent, NBC can be expected to hold back inventory in order to take advantage of scatter. (It’s worth noting that NBC’s declines aren’t as marked if the 2010 Olympics are pulled out of the data.)

As volume goes, so goes pricing. Barclays sees CBS commanding the biggest CPM increases (12 percent), while ABC and Fox should also break the double-digit threshold with 10 percent gains. Meanwhile, NBC may cut deals at an 8 percent premium.

While DiClemente did not offer a projection for the CW, Adweek estimates peg the net’s 2010-11 upfront haul at around $325 million. If the CW’s volume meets the broadcast average, the channel will book in the neighborhood of $350 million.

On the cable side of the ledger, the national nets are expected to boost their total take by 15.3 percent, landing $9.23 billion in business––on par with the broadcast estimate. If this holds true, cable will also enjoy its most lucrative late-spring sell-off.