/// Playing Nice at the Upfront

April 30, 2012  |  Media Week

If past upfronts have been characterized by a good deal of prefatory chest thumping, with sellers crowing about the prices they deserve and buyers countering with curt dismissals, the early talk around this year’s marketplace is practically genteel. For those who’ve had a front seat to some of the more contentious bazaars, it’s as if a bar brawl has given way to a quilting bee. As tends to be the case in advance of a “normalized” market, network ad sales execs and TV buyers seem to agree on many of the fundamentals. The consensus view has overall dollar volume ranging from flat-to-up 5 percent. If that projection holds true, the broadcast and cable nets will book between $18.5 billion and $19.4 billion in advance commitments. According to Pivotal Research Group senior research analyst Brian Wieser, the networks will push for CPM increases between 8 percent and 10 percent. “CBS should command rates at the high end of that range, while everyone else will come in a few points lower,” Wieser said. “Buyers will complain that broadcast’s price increases are too high, but there’s no getting around how network TV is the most efficient way for marketers to secure reach, frequency and GRPs.” While buyers say they paid too much in the supercharged 2011-12 upfront market, the costs were all but inevitable, given the dizzying premiums the networks were nailing down in scatter. “Last year, there was no question that the upfront was going to be a blockbuster,” said one ad sales boss. “Scatter was up 30, 35, 40 percent in the first and second quarter and so you could name your price. Now, with scatter up just a few points [versus last year’s upfront rates], we’re not going to have the benefit of those tailwinds.” To some extent, the ongoing NewFronts circus may have tempered some of the usual pre-upfront rhetoric.

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Playing Nice at the Upfront


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