Analyst: Upfront Strong Despite War


New York -- Despite the lagging economy and looming threat of war, the coming
TV upfront market will be strong, one leading Wall Street analyst said

"Going into the upfront market, there's a lot of steam, there's a lot of push
behind it," Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. analyst Jessica Reif Cohen told the
audience at an International Radio & Television Society breakfast here.

Reif Cohen was part of a panel of four Wall Street analysts who gathered to
discuss the current state of the media industry.

At the session, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Tom Wolzien offered
his own laundry list of programmers that he thinks "will probably be sold during
the next five years" as part of the media-consolidation frenzy.

He cited not only the two networks AOL Time Warner Inc. is trying to sell its
stake in -- Courtroom Television Network and Comedy Central -- but also
Discovery Communications Inc., A&E Network and Scripps Networks.

In most cases, as he noted, those networks or companies are held by
partnerships, rather than being wholly owned.

During her remarks on the advertising outlook, Reif Cohen acknowledged that
due to current uncertainties regarding war and the economy, it is a "complete
dichotomy" that the upfront marketplace is shaping up to a good one.

Nonetheless, the strong ad demand on a national level will be fueled in part
by the large number of product introductions this year, including 20 to 30 new
cars, she added.

During a recent conference, even media buyers were predicting that this
year's upfront would be up, Reif Cohen said.

Both Porter Bibb, an analyst with MediaTech Capital Partners, and Chris
Dixon, formerly with UBS Warburg LLC Equity Research, agreed that the old
conundrum, "content is king," no longer holds true.

That's because Americans don't like the idea of paying for content that
they've traditionally gotten free-of-charge, and to the fact that people are
downloading content, like music, illegally on the Internet.

"All of a sudden, the issue is: What is it [content] worth, and who is going
to pay for it?" Bibb said. "That puts a whole onus on the value of content."

Dixon chimed in, "Content with distribution is actually king."

During the panel discussion, Reif Cohen said the reality-programming craze on
broadcast will impact cable three years now.

That's because reality shows, unlike dramas or sitcoms, have no shelf life
and can't be syndicated. That means a dearth of off-network fare for cable in
the future, Reif Cohen said, and cable may have to fill in the hole with more
original programming.