Cable Upfront Still Surges

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Cable’s advertising upfront continued its surge last week, while broadcasters, at press time, were still waiting for the Madison Avenue dam to break.

Sources on the network and agency side said many of basic cable’s bigger players — Turner Network Television, TBS, USA Network, Discovery Channel and Lifetime Television — could have wrapped up 60% to 80% of their upfront business on Friday.

When all is said and done, some sellers anticipate that cable might increase its upfront take by $750 million to $1 billion over the $5.4 billion the industry recorded last year

During the annual Madison Avenue bazaar, marketers secure schedules for the upcoming TV season.

Automotive — particularly domestic makes, as well as lower-priced models — the Hollywood studios, DVDs and pharmaceuticals have been the leading categories, with less action on the packaged-goods side, according to sources. One emerging sphere: low-carb and organic foods.

“It’s a tale of two markets. Cable’s unprecedented level of business before broadcast, and huge increase in dollars aimed at adults 18 to 49 and 18 to 34, versus less for packaged goods and dollars aimed at adults 25 to 54,” noted one industry veteran.

In another sign of cable’s strong run, Magna Global USA, historically the last shop to place orders with the medium, was said to be in the hunt last week, according to sources.

Others tried to downplay cable’s early jump.

“The cable people are getting too excited about getting all the broadcast dollars. Cable will certainly be up, but not to the extent they may think off these early deals,” said Universal McCann executive vice president Jean Pool. “Things are starting to slow down a bit for cable.”

The market kicked off two weeks ago with USA Network as one of the more aggressive sellers, according to sources, laying in increased shares of budgets, albeit at low to mid single digit CPM gains. MTV Networks also set an early pace, capitalizing on the interest of studios, DVD and other home-entertainment clients to reach its young audience.

MTV is said to have banked some CPM gains in the low double-digits, but packages for some of the programmer’s other services fell into the 3%-4% range.

TBS and TNT have scored CPM gains in the high single digits, according to sources. Overall, sources pegged industry CPM advances in the 6%-7% range.

Elsewhere, other networks really got in the game last week.

“The marketplace is really starting to move now. We’ve written several deals already, ranging in volume from 30% larger than last year to two times over last year’s numbers,” said Steve Gigliotti, executive vice president of ad sales and emerging media for Scripps Networks. “In terms of CPM growth, it’s averaging in the high teens.”

“Both volume and CPM growth this year continues to underline the evolution of FX into cable’s top tier,” said Fox Cable Networks Group executive vice president of advertising Bruce Lefkowitz. “These increases speak to FX’s improved schedule and original programming.”

Meanwhile, at press time, word was beginning to circulate that the broadcast might finally ready to write some business.

“The autos and movie studios were having discussions [Wednesday and Thursday nights], with CBS in a lead role,” said an agency source. Fox is also said to be near studio deals.

Other observers suggested that some deals could get struck before agency doors were shuttered on Friday (at what hour, that’s another matter). “They’ve seen too much money move to cable. I’m not sure broadcasters are going to be too comfortable waiting until Tuesday,” he said.

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