Upfront Needs a July 4 Push


Last year, the cable upfront was virtually done by Memorial Day. This year, cable will be lucky if it closes its business by the Fourth of July.

As of deadline last Friday, some of cable’s bigger programmers — like Turner Broadcasting System Inc., MTV Networks and Comcast Corp. — had finished up as much as 75% of their upfront deals, according to some sources.

Others didn’t even think that part of the market had moved along that much — more in the 50% range — because ad-agency giant Magna Global has closed very few, if any, cable deals.

Some cable ad-sales executives were hopeful that a flurry of activity this week, before the holiday, could possibly complete the upfront for some major cable programmers.

Still, smaller cable outlets are lagging behind and could be stuck trying to close upfront business even in the weeks after July 4, sources said.

As expected, NBC took a beating in the broadcast upfront. The Peacock Network, whose ratings have been on a downslide, booked an estimated $1.9 billion to $2 billion in upfront commitments, roughly $1 billion less than last year.

As a result, NBC is dragging down dollar volume for the entire broadcast upfront this year. Depending on which estimates one uses for the Big Four networks, the broadcast upfront will either be slightly down or just even with last year’s market, pegged at $9.3 billion to $9.5 billion.

Cable was expecting to see double-digit or high single-digit CPM increases this upfront and gains of roughly 10% in its overall volume, to more than $7 billion from last’s year $6.6 billion.

Those lofty hopes were dashed when ABC, buoyed by hits like Desperate Housewives and Lost, set the pace by settling for CPM gains in the 4% to 6% range in order to increase its overall market share. ABC racked up $2.1 billion in upfront deals, up $500 million.

When ABC took modest price increases, it “set the bar pretty high” for cable to secure CPM gains, one ad-sales official said. Now, the bigger cable programmers are reportedly getting CPM increases of 5% at the very best, with others being forced to accept no gains or price decreases.