Calendar Offers Signs of Ad Market Warmth

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Another sign that the TV ad market is hot, particularly in cable, is the robust activity in the calendar upfront market.

Scripps Networks Interactive last week said that after seeing almost no calendar market activity the past two years, the market is very strong in 2011.

In the calendar upfront market, marketers reserve advertising time on a January to December basis, rather than a broadcast year-October to September-basis. Calendar upfront, which takes place around the beginning of the year, is usually much smaller than the more celebrated broadcast upfront in the Spring.

“We experienced a very strong calendar market, where one didn’t even materialize in either 2010 or 2009,” said Ken Lowe, CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, on last week’s earnings call with analysts.

Other sale execs also said the calendar market had strengthened. That’s despite the fact that money apparently moved from the calendar upfront to the broadcast upfront because marketers were concerned about rising prices.

“Pricing is higher [in the calendar market] than broadcast upfronts, but volume is up slightly,” said one cable sale exec who preferred his company not be identified.

“When you consider that there was calendar money that moved in broadcast upfront,” added Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP for sales at Fox Cable Networks Group, “the fact that the calendar market still showed incremental growth, was both surprising and reinforced the current market strength”

It will be interesting to see how much of that strength remains when the calendar turns to May and June.

Another interesting point from Scripps’ earnings call last week was that the company has been more aggressive in estimating how high its ratings will be and guaranteeing them for advertisers. That hurt Scripps’ revenues in the fourth quarter when viewership fell off at its big networks.

The downside is, of course, exactly what you saw in the fourth quarter, and that is that if you are pricing for all of your impressions delivery and according to your estimates, then if you miss them, then you’re going to see an immediate hit, CFO Joe NeCastro said on the earnings call. “The upside of course is that we’ve been able to avoid leaving a lot of money on the table as we’ve done.”

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