Both the cable- and broadcast-television networks'
primetime upfronts seemed to be headed for new sales records last Friday -- surpassing
their respective $2.3 billion and $6.2 billion jackpots of a year ago -- although cable
was notching the larger increases.
Thus, in the poker game known as the upfront, both
broadcast and cable executives were able to claim some early winning hands last week.
Several more cable upfront deals were concluded last week,
while the broadcasters were estimated to have passed the halfway point last Thursday,
executives reported. Cable anticipates that its efforts will peak over the next two weeks.
Early deals involving Lifetime Television, E! Entertainment
Television, A&E Television Networks and Turner Entertainment Networks -- as well as
others that are close to being sealed -- represented a break with traditional upfront
buying, since buyers are used to closing the broadcast upfront before moving on to cable.
Ad-agency and cable-network executives called the CPMs
(costs per thousand homes) for the broadcast networks sluggish -- in the 2 percent to 6
percent range -- in sharp contrast with cable's initial 6 percent to 13 percent
upticks. Rick Sirvaitis, president of ad sales at Fox Family Channel, said those numbers
were right on target with cable projections.
On the broadcast side, Fox was believed to be commanding
the highest CPM gains, and ABC the lowest. Despite ongoing erosion and some agency
predictions that the new fall schedules offer few, if any, real hits among the freshman
class, the broadcast networks were expected to "at least match" their year-ago
volume, some sources said.
Although these results signaled that most advertisers are
still convinced that network TV is the best way to reach the mass-market, more and more
clients seem to be hedging their bets by heavying up on cable -- if for no other reason
than to gain leverage in their TV bargaining.
Procter & Gamble Co. was said to have surprised the TV
networks with "big" daytime cutbacks, some of which may be in favor of cable,
sources close to upfront talks said.
"The real [cable] game hasn't begun yet,"
one Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. executive said.