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Fast Track

6/16/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Upfront Limps Out Of the Gate

Price raises are slight; volume may drop By John M. Higgins

The upfront market is shaping up to be even weaker than expected—more down than flat—with even strong broadcast and cable networks securing only slight price increases and total volume possibly dropping.

Two weeks after dealmaking started, broadcast networks are roughly halfway through, and cable networks are barely out of the gate. Last year, buyers committed $9.1 billion upfront for primetime broadcast shows and $6.9 billion for cable-network all-day programming.

This year, ad buyers and sales reps say the two networks with the best Nielsen-ratings story are the most aggressive. ABC has been most aggressive on price, holding out for 4%-plus cost-per-thousand-viewer (CPM) increases. That has prompted ad buyers to start cutting deals with other networks.

Fox is focusing on writing volume, settling for small, 2%-3% increases in CPM in primetime to secure commitments quickly. The network is expected to write more volume than last year.

Last fall's World Series slide meant that Fox's 18-49 audience average was flat for the 2006-07 season. But speaking at Deutsche Bank's annual media conference, News Corp. President Peter Chernin said Fox is emphasizing ratings for its entertainment shows, which he says increased more than 15%.

Chernin says that “our strategic view was not to go for huge increases in CPMs” but instead “to go for increases in volume, to try and monetize as much of that ratings increase.”

CBS, whose 18-49 ratings fell 5% this season, has not been aggressive in either price or volume and could opt to write less business than last year.

NBC, whose ratings have dropped sharply for two straight seasons, is swallowing price cuts of 5% and more. But the network is expected to increase the volume committed to the upfront market, so it could wind up selling the same amount it sold last year, $1.8 billion.

Part of the overall decline in upfront commitments can be traced to The CW, created out of the ashes of soon-to-fold The WB and UPN. The two networks combined sold around $925 million in last year's upfront.

Industry executives now believe that CW will fall well short of even the $650 million that WB alone sold last year.

Cable networks are waiting in line. Cable's CPM growth typically outpaces the Big Four broadcast networks, but not this year. Media executives say the largest basic networks are unlikely to secure CPMs gains around the same level as the strong broadcasters.

Shenfeld To Produce 'iVillage Live'

NBC Universal Television Stations is tapping David Shenfeld, a former executive producer of Fox-owned WNYW New York's morning show, to be the top producer for iVillage Live, a new daytime program that will air on NBC O&Os and stream on recently acquired women's Website iVillage.com.

Shenfeld will be executive producer for the live, female-friendly show, slated to launch toward the end of the year. The program will be produced with a live audience at NBC U's Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla.

A veteran of local TV and daytime talk, Shenfeld was executive producer for WNYW's Good Day New York from 2003 to 2005. Previously, he spent two years as co-executive producer for Ricki Lake's syndicated show, Ricki. He also has produced live programs for MTV and FX.

Early plans call for iVillage Live to air at noon ET/11 CT and live-to-tape for West Coast stations at noon.—Allison Romano

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