ABC, Fox Finish With Upfront Sales

ABC up $100 Million, but Sold More Inventory Than Last Year

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Walt Disney's ABC expects to secure around $2.5 billion in ad commitments for the 2008-2009 prime-time season, according to the network's top ad-sales executive. Meanwhile, News Corp.'s Fox has also completed sales, notching what a person familiar with the situation said was volume "significantly above" last year's $1.9 billion total.

ABC sold more inventory in this year's market to secure about $100 million more for its prime-time schedule, and approximately an additional $25 million for other dayparts, said Mike Shaw, ABC's president-sales and marketing. ABC's secured around $2.4 billion in ad commitments in last year's market, selling between 77% and 82% of its inventory. This year, the network sold between 80% and 85% of its inventory, Mr. Shaw said. Both commitment figures include sports sales, which Mr. Shaw said were not yet complete. He said ABC was able to secure price increases between 9% and 10% in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, also known as a CPM.

Locking in prices early
ABC's figures offer another indication that marketers are eager to lock in lower prices for TV time now rather than deal with expensive scatter market later on, when many might be facing a shaky economy. "We know some scatter came forward. You had such a strong scatter market, and some of that money moves into the upfront" historically when that's the case, Mr. Shaw said. Scatter refers to those TV spots sold in the quarter in which they appear.

However, the figures also show the networks sold more inventory than last year in order to eke out gains. Already, NBC was able to post a $100 million increase over its commitments. The General Electric network sold about 80% of its inventory, a few percentage points more than it did last year, according to an executive familiar with the situation.

Many analysts and media buyers had believed that the broadcast networks' poor performance in the recently completed season was a sign that the upfront might be down this year. Mr. Shaw said ratings fell along with the effects of the writers strike, and networks would be able to produce more first-run episodes in the new season, lifting their available ratings.

Among different categories of advertisers, Mr. Shaw said, "auto was pretty decent, pharma held up, retail was OK. All three of them were questionable and all three of them were fine." He said movie studio advertising was "positive."

Fox declines comment
Fox executives declined to comment beyond a one statement release reading, "Fox has concluded our primetime upfront sales at volume and pricing levels consistent with the No. 1 network." Media buyers report that Fox was getting CPM increases in the 9%-12% range.

In one possible explanation for Fox's performance, one media buyer said "movie studios gravitated toward Fox because of their younger audience profile."
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