TV Advertising Market Moving Again

But Are Purchases Replacing All the Upfront Buys Marketers Have Canceled?

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NEW YORK ( -- Ad dollars are creeping back into the TV market, ad buyers say, though they remain uncertain whether the money will replace portions of upfront buys marketers have canceled in recent months.

Purchases of so-called scatter, or ad time bought close to a show's air date, have begun to flow in April, media buyers said. The news should come as a relief to TV networks. In March, the market appeared to be frozen, as advertisers pulled back between 12% and 14% of their "holds," the second-quarter ad time they earmarked last May during the annual upfront ad-sales session.

Even so, there's some cause for concern. "There's some money coming back. I couldn't tell you if it were canceled money, or if it's just normal scatter," said Ira Berger, director-network broadcasting at the independent agency Richards Group. "At the end of the day, money is down. I couldn't tell you how much, but it's definitely down."

In a research note issued this morning, Wachovia Capital Markets analysts said, "Scatter rates remain weak in early [second quarter], generally up slightly over upfront rates for cable and flat to down low single digits vs. upfront rates for broadcast. With Easter behind us, we think more inventory will open up in scatter."

Meanwhile, attention has begun to turn to the third-quarter marketplace. In a more typical year, marketers would sign off on their third-quarter upfront buys about 75 to 90 days ahead of the time period, said buyers; mid-April marks the time when those "orders" usually take place. Just as they did around the time for securing second-quarter orders, advertisers are asking for extensions -- and getting them, according to media buyers.

The third quarter is often a quiet one for broadcast networks. The summer season is filled with repeats, lower-quality reality fare and short runs of programs that didn't get the nod for the fall season. Meanwhile, cable networks use the period to run some of their most popular original programming.

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