Cable Upfront Gets Cooking

The TV ad pie may be smaller than expected, but major cable players can't complain

The major cable concerns are nearing the upfront finish line, with most 70 percent to 80 percent finished with advance commitments for 2012-13. GroupM only started registering budgets on Tuesday (June 12), pushing the time line back a few days, but most should be signed by the unofficial July 4 deadline. It’s a fine take, too. Average dollar volume increase will likely be up about 5 percent from $9.29 billion in 2011 to $9.75 billion.

However, it wouldn’t be the upfront without some drama. Rivals and buyers loudly insist that NBCU is robbing Peter to pay Paul, accepting lower increases at smaller networks like Oxygen, Style and G4. Other sources close to the deals disagree, saying that increases of 9 percent at both USA and Bravo are organic. Still, NBCU will get, in aggregate, mid-to-high-single-digit increases at the end of the day (and, even after all this, Adweek was contacted by yet another source who was just as adamant that Bravo was getting around 8 percent, though the others still claim 9). The tech category is up everywhere, with a new Windows OS driving software ad sales.

Also in aggregate, Turner appears to be slightly above NBCU, partly because the latter is simply a larger organization (much larger, since the addition of the Comcast networks to its portfolio). TNT and TBS are said to be coming in just below USA, with 8 percent CPM increases. FX is having a good season, too: the Fox cabler is said to have landed a double-digit CPM gain.

A+E Networks is getting 6s and 7s on the strength of recent success. Pawn Stars, for example, dominated ratings in ’11, and it’s seeing big (10 percent plus) spending increases from restaurants and health and beauty. Rival Discovery is seeing similar CPM increases—the company has its work cut out for it with recent success story Investigation Discovery, which has grown so rapidly in ratings terms over the last year that it's likely to ask for major increases to go along with them.

Viacom went much earlier than the rest of its peers; the company’s pricing has fallen well below market average (as far down as about 3 percent), and at press time, it was about 80 percent finished. Viacom went for volume over pricing this year (largely because of ratings woes at Nickelodeon), according to one source, but the dip hasn’t affected the rest of the market.

Weakness in the entertainment ad category affected Viacom—the youth market that comprises most of Viacom's viewership is where a lot of the film, music and video game ads go, and those were harder to come by this year than in the past.

The jury is still out on Scripps, which takes a long time to negotiate its integration-heavy deals. It has the market cornered on the home category, which has declined at competitors but is on the rise for the DIY-centric group’s properties, which include HGTV, Food Network and Cooking Channel

In general there’s less money than expected in the overall TV market, and categories are shifting across networks. Moreover, everyone agrees volume in entertainment is weak this year, with studios lacking compelling 2013 tentpoles.