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CBS, ABC Wrap Up Upfront Ad Sales

In all, top TV networks appear to have taken $9 billion in advance deals for the 2004-05 broadcast season.

June 15, 2004|From Reuters

Network holdouts CBS and ABC are wrapping up early sales of television commercial time after a standoff on prices that stretched negotiations for several weeks, media buyers and network executives said Monday.

Viacom Inc.'s CBS and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC are the last of the top four U.S. networks to finish advance advertising sales for the 2004-05 broadcast season. Advertisers commit to buying commercial time up to 12 months in advance in the annual market known as the upfront.

CBS, which benefited from strong ratings for such shows as its "CSI" crime drama franchise, appeared to be the only top network to significantly raise its take, with about $2.4 billion in sales -- up from $2.2 billion a year ago. The network also took the lead in price increases with an estimated 10% rise.

Network UPN, also a Viacom unit, closed about $350 million in commitments, up from $250 million a year ago, with average price increases close to 9%.

Nearly a dozen new advertisers booked time on CBS, including four food companies, while returning fast-food chains and movie studios remained strong buyers.

ABC performed slightly better than expected, given flagging ratings. The network secured price increases of 5% to 6% and took in $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion, excluding sports and other special events, compared with about $1.7 billion a year ago.

"It shows that we still value broadcast television," said one media buyer. "With cable, you can still walk away from a network. It's a little harder to walk away from broadcast."

In all, the networks appear to have taken about $9 billion in upfront commitments compared with a record $9.3 billion a year earlier, with average price increases of about 7%, said Jack Myers, industry analyst and editor of the Jack Myers Report.

Cable networks are still writing deals but appear to have boosted their take as much as 20% from a year ago to $6.3 billion, with average price rises of 6% to 7%, he said.

The upfront market was vastly different from last year's heated horse trading session, which closed within a few days and drew double-digit price increases for the networks.

Advertisers warned the networks this year against demanding similar price increases per thousand viewers as broadcast TV loses viewers to cable and other media.

"Everything came off in almost a best-case scenario," Myers said of this year's upfront. "The marketplace didn't get out of hand and the networks really held to their guns in terms of pricing."

ABC and rivals NBC and Fox also sold about 5% less commercial inventory than a year ago, betting on a strong scatter market for shorter-term ad purchases.

NBC is owned by General Electric Co. and Fox is controlled by News Corp.

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