Lifetime's move to close comes amid a mixed cable upfront, which has been slower to move than broadcast or syndication. Because it involves so many different companies and cable channels, the cable upfront tends to drag, though it can move more quickly if buyers see cable's prices as more attractive than those of the broadcast networks.
Forced to accept 'C3'
But cable faces additional challenges this year. Many cable outlets have been forced to accept the so-called "C3" measure that many of their broadcast counterparts established with buyers earlier in the upfront session. Under these agreements, the TV channels agree to do deals based on commercial ratings, rather than ratings for programs, and the ratings include viewers who have watched as much as three days later through use of a digital video recorder.
Many cable companies have been frustrated with commercial ratings, saying that Nielsen's system for measuring them does not work as well with cable as it does with broadcast. Cable has other reasons for concern: Cable channels are known for running more ads and longer commercial breaks, factors which could create lower commercial ratings for them.
In certain cases, the debate may be moot. Lifetime's Mr. Matluck says most cable outlets are agreeing to C3 measures. "How does an agency tell its clients that it's not doing C3," given the conditions of the market, he said.
In exchange for not doing C3, some cable channels are "really giving up other stuff you're not hearing about," said Rick Basso, Lifetime's senior VP-pricing and planning. The Lifetime executives said the channel has been securing high-single-digit increases in the cost of reaching 1,000 people, also known as CPMs, a traditional measure in these sorts of negotiations.
In late June, Lifetime stuck a significant upfront deal with WPP Group's Group M, valued in excess of $70 million. That pact called for C3 measurements. Lifetime encompasses Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network and LifetimeTV.com.