That’s a Wrap: Broadcasters Close Out Upfront Market

NBC, Fox book the last of their fall TV deals

The broadcast bazaar is closed for business, as NBC and Fox late Wednesday wrapped up the last of their respective upfront deals.

Sources confirmed that both stragglers had crossed the finish line late this afternoon (June 13).

Buoyed by two cycles of the hit competition series, The Voice, and a significant investment in original scripted series, NBC was able to squeeze some extra money from the marketplace. Miller Tabak + Co. analyst David Joyce estimated that NBC booked a 3 percent volume increase versus a year ago, bringing its total haul to around $1.8 billion.

The Peacock network's average CPM increase hovered between 6 percent and 7 percent. Like its broadcast rivals, NBC held onto a bit more inventory than it did a year ago, when it moved 80 percent of its available prime time units.

Automotive was particularly strong for NBC, which boasts prime time TV’s most powerful asset in Sunday Night Football. Buyers estimate the cost of a 30-second spot in the NFL showcase could reach as much as $545,000 this fall. 

Meanwhile, after having booked the bulk of its business last week, Fox late Wednesday broke through with its final deal. The reigning champ among the 18-49 demo, Fox wrote CPM premiums in the 8 percent to 9 percent range on the way toward securing $2.2 billion in early sponsor commitments—flat versus last year’s showing. 

Sources said Fox sold 80 percent of its available prime-time inventory, on par with the amount it booked a year ago. The network airs 15 hours of prime-time programming per week, whereas ABC, CBS and NBC each offers 22 hours. 

Along with its blockbuster competition series (American Idol, The X Factor) and Sunday animation block, Fox is kicking the tires on a new two-hour Tuesday comedy block. Raising Hope will lead into the new family comedy Ben & Kate, which in turn will set the table for the freshman hit New Girl. Topping off the night is the new Mindy Kaling (The Office) sitcom, The Mindy Project

Fox got the ball rolling 13 days ago, when it began cutting preliminary deals with car companies and movie studios. Although the network did not offer comment on any specific client interactions, it is believed that Fox spent the better part of this week trying to hash out a deal with General Motors.

One ad sales chief said it was unlikely that any network would accept GM’s demands for steep rollbacks, noting that the gambit represented a usurpation of the entire upfront process: “They’re trying to change the way we all do business. No way does anyone write that deal.”

At deadline, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision was believed to be more than halfway done with its upfront deals. Pricing estimates were not available.

Buyers characterized this year’s bazaar as a “correction” of sorts, a counterbalance to the remarkably strong 2011-12 market. A year ago at this time, the Big Four was busy counting some $9.25 billion in upfront sales, on average CPM hikes of 11 percent.

As broadcast sales execs get ready to head out to the Hamptons, many of their cable counterparts are hoping to wrap up their business before the end of the month. Miller Tabak’s Joyce estimates the cable market will boost dollar volume by as much as 8 percent, which would make for a total haul of around $10 billion.

A year ago, cable nets booked a record $9.29 billion in early commitments.

While most insiders believe there will be a wide range of results, an aggregate 8 percent lift appears a bit bold for this particular market. At the final gun, expect total volume to be up around 5 percent, for a grand total of $9.75 billion.