Merrill Cuts Upfront Estimates

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Noting that the cable upfront is “moving very slowly,” influential Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Jessica Reif Cohen cut her ad-sales estimates for the 2006-07 upfront season for cable networks to $7.31 billion, up 3% from last year’s upfront.

Reif Cohen had originally projected that cable would generate a 5% year-over-year increase during the upfront.

“Participants are suggesting that the cable upfront could take most of the summer to finish. Our impression is that the advertisers are increasingly focused on spending with the largest cable networks and that smaller competitors are in a difficult position,” Reif Cohen wrote in a research note sent to clients late Monday.

She also said she expects the six major broadcast networks to generate $8.98 billion in revenue from upfront commitments from media buyers, down 1% from last year. Reif Cohen had originally projected that the six broadcast networks would post upfront numbers that would be flat compared with last year’s performance.