ABC Finishes Upfront Deals With Mid-Single Digit Increases, Low Volume

Network bets big on nonwhite audiences

ABC has confirmed that it is essentially done with upfront negotiations with the major agencies; a network source says that the broadcaster is making cleanup deals with a few smaller agencies but is happy with the deals overall. An industry source places the CPM increases between four and five percent; another says volume is down across the board and ABC is no exception. The network insider says that the company believes it is "pretty well poised for scatter."

Budgets are down overall this year; networks have said in no uncertain terms that this means scatter will be pricey when the season's hits establish themselves, but marketing budgets may simply be down overall, say buyers. ABC's big swings this season include a two-show Thursday night block of Shonda Rhimes dramas including newcomer How to Get Away With Murder at 10 p.m. ET and established hit Scandal at 9 p.m. (Grey's Anatomy will start the evening at 8 p.m.)

Several sources have said that CPG budgets are likely to be down this year, along with movie studios, which tend to run in two-year cycles. It's been a rough year for network television series, particularly sitcoms—The Wall Street Journal today reports on the shrinking pool of syndicated reruns on cable, due in large part to early cancelations that have plagued upfront slates in the past few years. That in turn has had a chilling effect on advertiser investment; why buy spots at a discount on a show that stands an excellent chance of getting canceled?

A buyer didn't mince words on the topic: "ABC has a way of making you think their programming is going to be great but then they don't deliver numbers on it," one said. Even Jimmy Kimmel made light of the hit ratio problem: "Don't get too attached to any of these shows, because most of them won't survive," he told media buyers. "It's like adopting a kitten with cancer. Oh, too much? I'm sorry. Well, you're going to hate our new show, 'Kittens with Cancer.'"

The network has some strong contenders in this year's lineup, notably the new Rhimes drama and several other shows aimed at underserved nonwhite audiences: Daily Show vet Larry Wilmore's single-cam show Black-ish, multi-cam laugh-track series Cristela, and Fresh Off the Boat (scheduled for mideseason) based on Eddie Huang's memoir.