$6B Later, Cable Upfront Is Finally Over

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Stick a fork in it. The cable upfront is done. And a fine upfront it was, with both buyers and sellers agreeing that the total take will fall between $5.7 billion and $6 billion. That's an increase of 19% to 25% over last year's $4.8 billion market.

Prices were up for just about everybody, although buyers say there was a wide range in terms of the percentage gains, from low-single-digit to low-double-digit.

"Cable had a very good market," said Bob Riordan, senior vice president, MPG, the New York-based ad buyer. Like the broadcast networks, many of the cable networks sold more of their inventory this year to achieve their gains, he said. "Some of the bigger networks are pushing 80% sellout, which is high for cable."

Andy Donchin, lead TV buyer for Carat, found that most cable nets approached the market with "very bullish" price-hike requests, based on strong network and syndication upfronts. "They were looking for their cut, but I think everyone settled into numbers that we can all live with."

Some of his clients, he adds, buy time on as many as 40 cable networks. "It's a drawn-out process, but, on the buying side, that means there's a lot of choice, which means everything is negotiable."

According to David Levy, head of entertainment and sports ad sales for Turner Broadcasting System, TNT and TBS wrapped their market about two weeks ago, collecting more than 20% in total dollars vs. last year at price hikes in the "low-double-digit range."

Bruce Lefkowitz, head of sales at Fox Cable, says FX and National Geographic "significantly exceeded" average industry gains in volume and pricing. He puts the average industry volume gain at 20% and the average price increase at about 8%.

USA and Sci Fi Networks achieved price gains of just over 11% with a 30% increase in total sales volume, according to Jeff Lucas, president of ad sales for the Universal Television Group. They added 40 new accounts, he said, Toyota being one of the more prominent ones.

"We're pleased. We achieved our goals," says Lynn Picard, Lifetime head of ad sales, who just last week was promoted to general manager of the network. Both volume and prices, she says, were up in the mid teens.

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