ABC Gains In Upfront Ad Volume, CPMs

Network Sees CPM Increases In The High Single Digits.

ABC Television said Monday it received higher unit prices and more aggregate ad revenue volume in the upfront market, in a fresh indication the networks held the upper hand in negotiations with advertisers.

ABC ad sales chief Mike Shaw said the Disney-owned outlet booked CPM percentage increases in the high single-digits in prime time, versus last year. ABC will rake in more than its $2.4 billion volume in prime time registered last year, though Shaw said the precise gain won’t be known until the sports upfront – which is handled by sister company ESPN – is completed.

ABC expects to write $125 million more in upfront business over all its day parts this year, of which the bulk is in prime time. ABC estimated that its sellout of primetime inventory ran around 77%-82% last year, but it is 80%-85% this year.

In any case, Shaw said ABC is done with the broadcast portion and the upfront marketplace is now focused on finishing cable TV deals in discussion. Looking forward beyond that, he added that “The outlook for scatter should be pretty decent.”

Prosperity at ABC matches reports of strong upfront sales elsewhere, including NBC. So the broadcast networks look to exceed their $9.1 billion upfront take from a year ago.

While the economy is fragile and network ratings are in decline, broadcast networks continue to feast on their ability to deliver large audiences and fears of ratings shrinkage makes their inventory more valuable. What is a strong scatter market currently also played into networks’ hands because advertisers worried that inventory would be even more expensive once the 2008-09 season begins, as has been the case in 18 of the past 20 years.

Various sources had predicted upfront volume would shrink, compared to last year, due to weaker broadcast ratings, which Shaw said was a “false read” of the marketplace. The Hollywood writers strike meant ABC Television didn’t have 87 original TV series episodes from January to June, which led to what Shaw said was a non-recurring drop in ratings. He figures that the big four networks in aggregate were missing 225-250 original TV series episodes. “The loss of rating points wasn’t permanent,” he noted.

Shaw would not discuss what advertisers and categories were hot and weak, other than to say ABC did not find automotive, retail and pharmaceuticals particularly weak, as some have predicted.

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