Cable Networks’ Upfront Tally Is $9.79B

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With all member precincts reporting, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau pegs national cable networks’ take for the 2012-13 upfront TV selling season at almost $9.8 billion.

The CAB estimates that national cable networks wrote business totaling a record $9.79 billion for this year’s upfront, representing a 5% gain, or some $511 million more than the $9.29 billion for the 2011-12 selling season.

At that level, national cable easily outpaced broadcast’s upfront business for the upcoming season. Various watchers place broadcast’s count at between $8.9 billion and $9.2 billion. Published reports estimate Fox’s upfront sales in the $1.9 billion to $2 billion range; ABC’s at between $2.3 billion and $2.4 billion; CBS’s in the $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion range; NBC’s at $1.7 billion to $1.8 billion; and The CW’s at some $400 million to $420 million.

During the annual bazaar, networks sell inventory ahead of the upcoming season based on expected viewership delivery. Cable’s improvement marks the third straight year that the national networks have collectively recorded upfront gains, albeit at a smaller rate of increase than during the past two years.

“This is a market-leading performance in the upfront,” CAB CEO Sean Cunningham said in an interview. “As we talk to clients and agencies, they tell us they want their products and services to be connected to branded cable programming. The demand grew in each segment and across various platforms.”

Cunningham said the industry’s commitment to highquality programming is paying continuing dividends on Madison Avenue.

“Every time this market organizes, the buying community demonstrates to the networks that their programming investments are worthwhile because their inventory increases in demand the following year,” he said.

He also noted that the distinction between broadcast and cable continues to wane, with the long-term value and interest pointing toward branded television and original programming. “Everybody is in the originals game, and the numbers speak for themselves,” he said, pointing to the serieshigh 5.4 million viewers that tuned in for the fifthseason debut of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, as the latest example of cable’s capacity to deliver large audiences.

As the election cycle spins into high gear, Cunningham said, local cable and national networks are poised to reap the benefits from “an unprecedented arena of spending.”

He called the “undecided viewer the jewel” of this market, which will be shaped by the interest in the presidential race; by the-state-by-state battles, depending on whether they are “tight or not;” and by “the investments of interest groups, many of whom are convinced that their inventory will influence voters.”

Moody’s Investors Service estimates that local TV stations will record some $2.8 billion from political ad campaigns and groups in 2012, a 25% gain from the mid-term elections in 2010.

According to Wells Fargo, total local TV political-ad spending year-to-date through Sept. 2 totaled $852.6 million. When network and national spot buys were added to the media mix, the amount was $998.4 million.

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