CBS Upfront Inventory Starts to Move

Network's sweet spot is 14 percent CPM hike

After a brief spasm of false starts and missed cues, CBS has resumed its pas de deux with media buyers.

On Friday, the broadcaster began moving its prime time ad inventory at a healthy 14 percent premium over last year’s rates, a hike more in keeping with buyers’ early expectations. With a more tenable CPM increase on the table—earlier this week, CBS had floated an 18 percent rise in the cost of reaching viewers—the dance between buyer and seller resumed in earnest.

Slowed somewhat by buyers’ immediate reaction to the rate hikes negotiated by Fox, the market on Thursday seemed in danger of stalling out entirely. The first to wrap its upfront deals, Fox wrote 11 percent increases. Some buyers began looking at that figure as a benchmark for the rest of the industry, an interpretation CBS was quick to discredit.

Grousing about Fox’ upfront strategy wasn’t limited to rival sales executives. Thumbing his nose at the competition, CBS Corp. president and CEO Les Moonves on Thursday intimated that Fox had played a bum hand.

“Fox plays their game, we play ours,” Moonves said. “I like our game. We’re not going to sell at 10 percent. We’re just not.”

Moonves went on to rattle off all the things on the CBS schedule that make it a full-service network. “Fox is a different business. They only have 15 hours…they have no news there, they have no daytime, they have no late night. We have all of the above.”

Moonves also reiterated earlier warnings that CBS would fold its tent and go if buyers didn’t meet its asking price. The CBS chief first sounded that note in March, when he told investors that his sales staff would land “a substantial increase, or we’ll sell nothing. … We’ll sell it all in scatter.”

While negotiations resumed on Friday, CBS is proceeding at a deliberate pace. As such, cable networks looking to get a jump on their own negotiations may have to hold their fire until after next week. (ABC still has a way to go before it can call it a day and NBC has been idle.)

Fox tied up the last of its upfront deals on Thursday, shifting 80 percent of its prime time avails. Buyers estimate the network boosted its dollar volume by 10 percent, which would put its overall take at around $2.2 billion. That said, some outside sales executives were skeptical that the year-over-year gains were that pronounced.

Fox was the first network to close up shop last year. The CW followed on its heels, booking some $325 million in upfront commitments.

Sources on Friday suggested that the CW should be finished with its deals before the end of the day. Like Fox, the female-friendly net has written 11 percent CPM increases.

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