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3Q Scatter: Tight and pricey

7/27/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Third-quarter scatter is pretty much done, although buyers say there wasn't a lot of spending because most of the inventory had been sold in last year's upfront market. Scatter prices, were up 30%-60%, according to both buyers and sellers.

Mel Berning, president of broadcasting, MediaVest USA, says the scatter market moved "very quickly" at his agency, but "there wasn't that much. Some went to the networks, but most went to cable and syndication." Because networks are meeting their ratings guarantees, he adds, they have put up for sale some inventory set aside for make-goods. "It's largely reality shows. There's very little of the good stuff out there."

More worrisome to some agency executives is just how legitimate all that upfront ad spending was.

"There's still a big question about whether all this year's upfront money is real," says Andy Donchin, senior vice president director of national broadcasting, Carat. "It's possible some clients over-committed and might have to call dollars back. Towards the end of the summer, we'll know just how many commitments go to orders."

Tom Wolzien, research analyst, Sanford Bernstein, says, "It's premature to say contracts will hold. We just don't know. But a lot also depends on the economy's not going south."

Jessica Reif Cohen, lead entertainment and media analyst at Merrill Lynch, feels "pretty confident upfront commitments will hold." Auto spending in the upfront was basically flat, she says. But her sense now is that spending in the sector will strengthen in next season's scatter market.