Weakness Seen in Scatter Sales


Fourth-quarter scatter money is coming in very slowly and at levels far below last year's budget-busting rates. Price increases are said to be 5%-plus above upfront rates.

"The money's just not there," says Jean Pool, EVP/chief operating officer, Universal McCann. "I've heard some networks are predicting single-digit increases, and, if you look at other media, spot is flat, radio is down. Networks will have to lower their expectations."

Says Ray Dundas, SVP/group director, national broadcast, Initiative, "We made our pre-upfront buying plans with our media economists and were projecting fourth quarter lower in terms of demand, and that's what we're seeing. Traditionally, [there's] under-spending because, for many companies, it's the last fiscal quarter, and there are budget considerations."

He sees scatter revenue increases in the mid single digits and "nothing out of the ordinary" in commitment cutbacks. Magel says some scatter buys could surpass 10% but won't approach the 60% hikes of last year, even if they rise faster in the second and third quarters. "But it all depends on how much money gets cancelled and comes back into the market," he cautions.

Right now, network sources confirm both the slow sales and lower scatter increases.

"Buys are being confirmed, but they're slow in coming," a CBS source reports. "As for scatter, the ratings on our side are very good, but we can't predict [increases] right now."

Says NBC spokeswoman Hilary Smith, "Things are pacing according to plan at NBC, with scatter getting high-single-digit increases above upfront prices."