Nets Dont Fret Slow Scatter Market

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Cable networks' third-quarter scatter-ad sales may be somewhat soft so far, but executives chalked that up to a post-Fourth of July lull, as well as to consolidation among dot-com companies.

"July is not as robust as April, May or June. July is typically a soft month," E! Networks executive vice president David Cassaro said.

"It's a little early" to write off the scatter marketplace as being in trouble for broadcast or cable networks, he said. Many buyers and sellers, he added, are "catching their breath from the upfront and the Fourth of July holiday."

Despite published reports elsewhere quoting some ad-agency buyers as saying that many networks had withheld inventory from the upfront in order to sell it at a higher rate to the short-term scatter advertisers, Cassaro was among those who thought otherwise.

"No one's out there panicking," he maintained. "Most networks don't have that much [business] to write for the third quarter."

At Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc., a spokesman said much the same. "It is slow, but that's not unexpected" in the wake of record-breaking cable and broadcast upfronts and the four-day holiday weekend.

Turner executives expect the momentum to pick up later in the summer, he added.

Some network sources compared the buyers' talking up scatter softness to the pre-upfront jockeying in the trade press, when buyers sought to hold down costs per thousand homes (CPMs).

A Discovery Networks U.S. executive also agreed with the other network executives' assessment of the scatter market, but he felt that the momentum would pick up in August.

Lifetime Television executive vice president of ad sales Lynn Picard, unavailable for comment at press time, had observed in June that many clients went heavy during the upfront because they "don't want to get caught by the higher scatter prices."

One major buyer seemed to concur with the networks' assessment. Bob Igiel, president of broadcast operations at The Media Edge, Young & Rubicam Inc.'s media-buying entity, said, "I'm not sure it's true" that scatter is that slow.

Although the post-Fourth period is typically slow, he added, back-to-school availabilities are "pretty well sold, [with] only a week here and a week there" open in the quarter.

The dot-com category is "not spending as freely" as last year, and "there are fewer dot-coms due to consolidation," Cassaro said. Nevertheless, he emphasized, "Some dot-coms are still advertising."

Dot-coms with stock-value woes "don't have a lot of money to spend," Igiel said.

Looking ahead, Cassaro said, "It remains to be seen whether the Olympics will have an impact on September [ad sales]."

Although the Olympic Games may take millions of dollars out of the marketplace, he added, this may be offset by companies that advertise back-to-school and warm-weather products and services from late summer into September. Moreover, he said, "Movies look pretty healthy [as a category] for summer."

NBC has already booked about $1 billion in Olympics buys for the last two weeks of September, while CNBC and MSNBC are selling time on their own Olympics coverage.

But the Discovery executive said the non-Olympics sponsors still have to be on the air. "They need to be everywhere else" other than the Olympics, he felt.

During the upfront marketplace that wrapped up last month, network cable amassed anywhere from $4.5 billion to $5.1 billion in buy commitments for the 2000-2001 season, depending on which industry sources one believed. The broadcast-television networks garnered $8.2 billion to $8.3 billion.

Both camps notched impressive volume growth and significant double-digit CPM increases, various sources agreed.

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