NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- At a different time, whispers that NBC Universal and WPP's Group M were in the midst of heated upfront discussions would have been enough to spark the entire market. Not so in 2009.
Buyers and sellers continue to meet and hash out terms, according to executives on both sides of the haggling. In the past few years, a deal between NBC Universal and Group M has often served as a beachhead in upfront negotiations. In 2007, Group M used a pact with NBC to get networks to accept then-untested C3 ratings, which try to account for viewers who watch the commercials rather than the programs they support. Once news of that deal surfaced, other networks quickly followed with pacts of their own.
With the July 4 holiday now officially in the rearview mirror, however, TV's upfront market is largely at a standstill. The only official confirmation of activity has come from Group M and NBC Universal, which have acknowledged they are in discussions but have said little beyond that. What's surprising is the lack of reaction from NBC rivals and the sense that there's little urgency to get business done as TV's fall season moves closer.
CBS and ABC are telling buyers they don't consider pacts with NBC to be something they need to match, according to people familiar with the situation. With a fall season that includes five nights of a Jay Leno-hosted talk show that is not expected to bring in the ratings of a more traditional hourlong drama, NBC has fewer prime-time ratings points to sell. And CBS and ABC are still hoping to avoid offering steep rollbacks in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, also known as a CPM. CPM is a traditional measure used in upfront negotiations.
Many buyers expect most agencies to settle for mid-single-digit to high-single-digit percentage decreases from NBC, the most ratings-challenged of the big broadcasters in prime time, and low-single-digit to mid-single-digit percentage decreases from CBS, ABC and Fox. Whether the three TV networks will be able to hold out against those demands remains to be seen.