Buyers Losing Patience with `Big Four'

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After a protracted period of posturing and inactivity, the cable and
broadcast upfront-ad-sales markets finally began percolating.

Lifetime Television, for one, closed a deal with The Media Edge, WPP Group's
media-buying unit, network executive vice president of ad sales Lynn Picard
confirmed Thursday.

The women's-oriented network's move followed news that NBC had taken the
risky step of cutting ad revenues in a gambit to jump-start the sluggish market.
According to published reports, the maneuver helped the 'Peacock Network' to
wrap up about one-half of its expected upfront take in the process.

NBC's play was expected to push the other broadcasters to lower their
pricing. However, buyers have complained to cable sales executive that CBS has
been the slowest mover among the 'Big Four.'

That's due to Viacom Inc. president Mel Karmazin's directive to hold the line
at last year's pricing. Sources said Karmazin has even been making sales calls
himself.

This year's upfront has also bogged down under the weight of more haggling
about cross-platform deals between big agencies and media conglomerates.
Historically, most of cable's upfront activity has come after the broadcasters
secure the lion's share of their deals.

Broadcast's intransigence this spring, though, may finally be stirring some
schedules on the cable side.

Picard said some agencies and clients are also expressing interest in digital
networks that have sufficient distribution. For example, Lifetime Movie Network
-- now in almost 16 million households -- has migrated onto Madison Avenue
planning maps.

Elsewhere, sources said The Media Edge had wrapped upfront buys with A&E
Television Networks, USA Networks Inc. and Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc.'s TBS
Superstation and Turner Network Television.

A Turner spokesman said its upfront had yet to break, while an A&E
spokesman declined comment. USA officials did not return calls by press
time.

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