Cable's Upfront Trifecta

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The final tally  for cable's upfront for the 2010-11 TV season was a strong one as the medium notched its best performance ever during the annual Madison Avenue bazaar.

The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau estimated that ad-supported cable garnered just over $8 billion in upfront buys for the upcoming TV campaign, a 19% jump over the $6.73 it amassed during the depressed 2009-10 marketplace, when the faltering economy punctured advertiser confidence and resulted in a 13% contraction from the $7.6 billion level for the 2008-09 season.

CAB said that the $8.003 billion intake put cable on par with the $8 billion collected by ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC. Others have estimated broadcast's upfront take at some $8.3 billion to $8.5 billion, a rebound from 2009-10, but still well down from the $9.2 billion for the 2008-09 TV season.

Regardless of the exact tallies, CAB president and CEO Sean Cunningham said TV continues to thrive.

"This is less about broadcast versus cable than the upfront speaking to the health of the medium," he said. "The feedback we've received from agencies and advertisers is that TV is still growing. Not only is TV the lead medium, it's the lead digital medium as viewers can now access it through multiplatform access points."

Cunningham emphasized that even as online video and other advanced media platforms have proliferated, consumers continue to increase the amount of time they spend with the original small screen. "It's a misnomer that people are substituting other media for TV," he said.

The CAB leader said that cable picked up some $800 million in new dollars to TV during this upfront.

"Given the toughest economy of our lifetimes, it's nice that cable has not only been a ‘must-keep' for media planners and buyers, but has become an ‘add to,' " he said, calling the medium's gains "ubiquitous, by size of the network, genre and demographics."

Cunningham said there were CPM gains across the board.

" Volume grew significantly and pricing was up," he noted, adding that the "process unfolded in a relatively condensed period that benefited advertisers, agencies and sellers. That's the upfront trifecta."

All told, CAB estimated that national cable generated a 1.8% advance to $18.7 billion in total spending in 2009, up from $18.4 billion the prior year. The group hasn't finalized its forecast for 2010, although it figures to improve given the strength of scatter market, which Cunningham said was nearing a sell-out for the third quarter. Cunningham notes that one-third of the 3,000 advertisers that buy national cable don't participate in the upfront, which can keep the scatter market buoyant.

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