Upfront Market Gets Rolling


After two weeks of dickering over ratings issues, the upfront market is "breaking," with all of the broadcast networks busily writing deals Tuesday. Industry executives say that CBS started moving first, securing modest increases in the cost per thousand viewers (CPMs), perhaps around 2%. Fox was also writing deals. Ad buyers began registering budgets with ABC, NBC and even The CW, and all started to do business Tuesday.

Price levels could not be learned, but there’s no sign of momentum that would conflict with Wall Street forecasts that the upfront will be flat or up just 1%

Networks tend to secure the biggest CPM increases with their early deals, so whatever data emerge in the next day or two won’t necessarily reflect overall pricing. Buyers say CBS, ABC and Fox were each initially seeking CPM hikes of more than 5%. CBS would only acknowledge that its salesmen had started writing deals. None of the other networks would comment.

Buyers and networks had been hesitating over the treatment of audiences watching digital video recorders. Networks want advertisers to pay both for viewers watching a program live and those who record it and watch it within seven days, the so-called "live-plus-seven" rating. Major ad buyers have uniformly insisted on paying only for live viewing, unwilling to pay even for shows that are TiVoed and replayed the same day ("live-plus-same-day" ratings).

Other broadcast networks were generally agreed but were willing to let ABC sales chief Mike Shaw lead the charge. It has been clear that buyers weren’t budging, and when ad agencies started registering budgets and CBS on Monday commenced writing some business, ABC folded.