Scant Drama as Upfront Rolls On

CW is only net to wrap advance selling, as Fox, CBS, ABC post high single-digit lifts; NBC lags

If you had to characterize the 2012-13 upfront marketplace in a single word, you could do worse than invoke the value-neutral interjection “meh.”

On the one hand, the broadcast networks may be lucky if they can match their dollar volumes of a year ago; at the same time, top-tier cable should walk away from the table up between 5 percent and 7 percent.

As of midafternoon Friday (June 8), only The CW had completed its upfront deal-making, moving 75 percent of its available inventory of 10 weekly prime-time hours. Having booked $400 million to $410 million in advance commitments for the upcoming TV season, the network’s sales were off slightly versus last year’s take.

On average, The CW wrote 7 percent CPM increases, as demand for its converged linear-digital packages helped offset a 20 percent drop-off in the 18-34 demo.

At deadline, Fox was close to wrapping its final chunk of business, writing 8 percent CPM premiums in a plus-6 market. CBS is said to be writing nines, ABC is averaging 6 percent to 7 percent price increases and NBC is coming in on the low end of the market with 6 percent gains. One media buyer on Friday said NBC has written very little business thus far, despite being fully registered.

As a whole, the broadcasters are unlikely to match the $9.2 billion they raked in a year ago. “The money just isn’t there,” said one ad sales executive. “When all the pieces are put together, volume’s going to be down a few ticks more than we expected.”

General Motors’ quixotic bid to attain 20 percent rollbacks has been nothing short of disastrous, as two of the Big Four broadcasters have walked out on the automaker altogether. Carat’s intractable stance on behalf of its new client has jeopardized GM’s historically friendly rates and threatens to destabilize its TV strategy. Case in point: According to Kantar Media, GM last year invested $159 million in National Football League inventory. “There is no replacement for football, especially when you’re trying to move your product in the fall,” said one ad sales boss.

Top-tier cable nets are moving with broadcast. As of Friday, four groups (A&E Networks, Discovery Communications, Fox Cable and Turner Broadcasting) were close to 50 percent complete.

Sacrificing pricing premiums on the altar of volume, Viacom is near the last of its upfront deals. In a plus-6 market, the company is writing 3 percent CPM hikes.

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