Cable wrapped perhaps 40 percent of its upfront late last
week, just days after the Big 4 broadcast networks rallied to match their year-ago $6.2
billion upfront total.
Cable seemed on track to surpass the $2.3 billion it
tallied in 1997 -- possibly reaching $2.5 billion or even $2.7 billion, according to Bill
Croasdale, president of Western International Media's national broadcast division,
and John Silvestri, USA Networks' executive vice president of ad sales.
Still, NBC alone amassed $2 billion in the TV upfront for
the second straight year.
There were also disagreements among cable buyers and
sellers about how much was sold and how fast, and how high costs per thousand homes (CPMs)
rose -- in keeping with the bargainers' poker-style posturing.
Agency executives disagreed over whether the upfront was
close to halfway completed or only at the 40 percent mark.
"So many deals are just about to close,"
explained Bill McGowan, Discovery Networks' senior vice president of ad sales.
Two sellers called this upfront "orderly" and
"methodical," unlike a couple of years ago. But one agency buyer said it was
In this high-stakes poker game, TV and cable already can
claim wins. The broadcast networks, though flat, can boast of confounding the naysayers --
largely by offering "very realistic pricing," said Paul Schulman of Paul
That was seen as a sign signal advertisers aren't yet
ready to forsake what they regard as the most effective mass medium. But cable can crow
about a banner year, with clients bringing in bigger budgets to offset broadcast's
Contrary to reports published last week, several buyers and
sellers said it was not a "weak or lame TV upfront." Rather, they said that
"a ton" of TV business was written June 5 and June 8. That excluded fledglings
WB and United Paramount Network (UPN), which probably totaled another $500 million,
A few categories were sparking cable's growth.
"Automotive is the big story of this upfront -- it's huge," said one cable
Telecommunications is another, said exectives at Turner
Broadcasting Sales Inc. and Discovery, who also cited "very healthy" increases
from packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, entertainment and financial services. Cosmetics is
another riser, others added.
On the CPM front, some networks felt CPMs grew "6 to
13 percent," but Silvestri said it was closer to "6 to 9 percent." Still
others said only A&E Networks and Discovery reached the 10-to-11 percent mark.
Meanwhile, CPMs at the Big 3 rose from 2 percent to 7
percent, with Fox and its attractive demos up to 9 percent. The WB, from a lower base,
turned in CPM increases in the high teens, sources reported.
Apropos of that, a Turner executive warned, "All CPM
increases are not created equal," since baselines vary.