Cable Upfront Could Approach $2.9B

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With cable's hefty upfront now almost behind them,
various network executives said they've noticed several new trends.

Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. executives late last week
estimated that overall cable upfront-sales volume will surpass the year-ago $2.3 billion
tally by at least $500 million -- and that it will perhaps even approach $2.9 billion,
once all of the dribs and drabs are counted.

A Turner spokesman said its entertainment networks are
"pretty much wrapped," except for a few small-agency buys. Most so-called
tier-two and tier-three networks' selling was expected by some Madison Avenue sources
to run through the end of July.

The new network-sales wrinkles that several sellers spotted
during cable's current selling season included:

• Cable's cost per thousand homes (CPM) increases
in this upfront have outpaced those of the "Big Four" broadcast television
networks for the first time, according to Turner sales executives.

Industry sources have estimated cable's CPM increases
in the 5 percent to 11 percent range, compared with 2 percent to 9 percent for TV's
Big Four.

• Calendar-year ad sales are moving much sooner than
before -- now, as opposed to the more traditional September-to-October period -- Cable
News Network and Lifetime Television executives said.

"Calendar-year deals are not waiting anymore,"
said Lynn Picard, Lifetime's senior vice president of ad sales. "Now,
they're moving early," to get the best positions.

Lifetime already has at least two calendar-year deals
finalized, with others close, she added.

Yet another network-sales executive felt that this shift
may be occurring because "there are no incumbencies in cable. To get the positions
that they bought last year, [buyers] have to move when the market moves, or they lose
out."

As a result, he added, "we've had fights about
that [policy]" with major accounts that felt that their positions should have been
protected.

The major January-through-December categories include
financial services, insurance, packaged goods and office equipment, sources said.

CNN, which sells mostly on a calendar-year basis, had
closed "the majority" of its upfront deals last week, a Turner spokesman said.

• In the upfront, such established networks as
Turner's and those of Discovery Networks U.S. "realigned their client
mixes," cable sources said. This meant that they sold more inventory to their best --
or heaviest-spending -- customers, and less to the lowest spenders, they explained.

With the upfront winding down, major buyers and sellers are
now turning their attention to the post-upfront scatter marketplace. Several sellers said
they are bullish that it will be a strong, pricey scatter market for cable. The scarcity
of scatter inventory from the Big 4, already heavily sold, should drive up cable rates,
these executives predicted.

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