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Cable's Still Moving, Not Sailing

6/17/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

The cable upfront continues to inch along, with some of the bigger programmers reportedly having finished more than half of their deals.

“Business has been slow to steady,” one ad-sales chief said.

The major programmers, such as Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and MTV Networks, have closed in the neighborhood of 50% to 60% of their upfront deals, according to sources. Officials at Turner and MTVN declined to comment last week.

During this upfront — which is turning out to be a disappointment to some in cable ad sales — a number of ad agencies are staying steadfast in their desire to secure smaller CPMs, or price cuts, from certain networks.

That's putting a brake on the kind of swift deal-making that marked last year's robust, and early, cable upfront.

“Agencies are looking to find the bottom,” the cable official said. “Networks have different bottoms. … There's a little bit of a standoff.

“Some folks have drawn certain lines in the sand and some of the networks aren't willing to go along with it. Others are being more realistic. In some corners of the market, business is moving. But not all.”

Another cable-sales official said agencies “are definitely playing hardball.” But he estimated that, on average, 40% to 50% of the total cable upfront has been sewn up.

Even though larger programmers like Lifetime Television and Turner have made progress, some smaller cable outlets hadn't even written any upfront business yet. “There are still networks that haven't gotten up to bat, and won't get up to bat until the week after next,” the cable-sales official said.

So far, cable sources are pegging the medium's scorecard as CPMs that are flat to 3%, with some possible price rollbacks.

At least one cable ad executive tried to play down the fact that Procter & Gamble, a major cable advertiser, was cutting its TV spending this year. He said that P&G was concentrating its TV-ad cuts in certain segments of its business, and that categories like hair care and beauty were less affected.

“It isn't like everybody got cut across the board [by P&G] by some percentage,” he said.

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