CBS in the Red Zone With Super Bowl Ad Sales

Network deals 80% of in-game inventory

Although the 2012-13 NFL season isn’t set to kick off for another five weeks, CBS on Thursday said it is already nearing a sellout of its available in-game inventory for Super Bowl XLVII.

Speaking to investors during the media company’s second-quarter earnings call, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves said the broadcaster had already sold “80 percent of advertising in the game,” adding that the pace puts CBS “well ahead of where we were three years ago.”

Two months ago, CBS had wrapped up approximately half of its in-game deals. The Super Bowl is scheduled to take place in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013.

While Moonves did not speak to the sort of rates CBS was securing in advance of the big game, media buyers suggest the network is trading 30 seconds of airtime at a record-high average unit cost of $3.8 million. This marks a 9 percent increase from NBC’s going rate of $3.5 million per spot in the most recent installment of the NFL title game.

While demand has been steady, no network cleared more in-game inventory from its plate as quickly as Fox did two years ago. In a series of deals that were hashed out concurrently with the 2010-11 upfront marketplace, Fox had already sewn up 80 percent of its Super Bowl XLV business by the first of June.

CBS continues to zero in on a summer sellout even as General Motors remains on the sidelines. Just days after the broadcasters presented their fall lineups to buyers and clients, GM in May announced it would punt away its annual investment in the Super Bowl.

At the time, GM global marketing officer Joel Ewanick said the automaker could not justify the expense of advertising in the Super Bowl. Two months later, Ewanick was out of a job.

Network sales chiefs hoping for a quick reversal of Ewanick’s media strategy may be in for a bit of a letdown, at least in the near term. “There is no change,” interim global chief marketing officer Alan Batey said Wednesday during GM’s July sales call. “There is no change in direction; there’s no change in priorities.”

GM bought 180 seconds of in-game spots that aired during Super Bowl XLVI, including a :30 for Cadillac that ran after the final two-minute warning. The automaker also was the official postgame sponsor. While CBS declined comment on the matter, sources outside the network said the postgame entitlement remains vacant.

Late last month, PepsiCo said it had reached a multiyear deal with the NFL to sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show, replacing Bridgestone Tires.

On the earnings front, CBS in Q2 beat Wall Street’s estimates, reporting net earnings of $427 million, or 65 cents a share, up 8 percent from $395 million, or 58 cents, in the year-ago period. Moonves said the profit was the highest since the company became a stand-alone entity in 2006.

CBS generated $3.48 billion of consolidated revenue in the quarter, down 3 percent from $3.59 billion. Sales at the broadcast/studios/distribution/interactive unit were down 7 percent to $1.71 billion.

While the company did not break out ad sales figures for the flagship network, a pair of noncomparable items—a multiyear digital-streaming agreement with Netflix and a March airdate for the 2012 NCAA Final Four—were almost wholly responsible for the year-over-year declines.

Cable TV revenue grew 8 percent to $446 million.

Looking ahead, Moonves said he expects the ad market will bounce back in September, coinciding with the official start of the 2012-13 broadcast season. “In August, we don’t worry about the scatter market—especially in an Olympic year,” Moonves said. “We’re ready for the gun to go off in September.”