IT'S A BUYER'S MARKET AS KIDS TV UPFRONT KICKS OFF: $800 MIL IN ACTION EXPECTED, WITH SLIM CPM GAINS

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The kids upfront TV marketplace finally broke last week, and it was a buyer's market for the first time in years.

With market leader Nickelodeon -- which captures 56% of all kids viewing -- basically sitting on the sidelines after cutting two-year deals with advertisers in 1997, and with a lot of new inventory available in the marketplace, the only real question was how hard buyers would hammer sellers on price.

In total, the kids marketplace is expected to hit close to $800 million this year, up from last year's $750 million.

Both Fox Broadcasting and ABC apparently saw cost-per-thousand decreases on some deals, buyers said.

2% CPM GAIN FOR ABC

An ABC insider claimed the network wrote some business at the same level as last year and was able to eke out 1% to 2% CPM increases from other buyers. Fox also was able to write business with slight increases, claimed an executive close to that network.

"Don't get me wrong," said one network manager. "We were definitely off on CPMs. But we had diminished expectations this year."

The WB, with ratings up about 25%, had no problem commanding low single-digit CPM increases. The Cartoon Network, which has seen huge jumps in distribution and ratings, also did well.

UNREALIZED AMBITIONS

The soft marketplace, however, put something of a damper on the Cartoon Network's ambitions for a huge increase in market share. Buyers and sellers estimate the network wrote about $50 million to $60 million in business, while cable's Fox Family Channel, the new player on the block, wrote just under $40 million.

Fox Broadcasting pulled in about $100 million, off slightly from last year. ABC wrote about $50 million in business, and WB was estimated at $70 million to $75 million. UPN's take was said to be around $10 million.

The 1998 kids upfront broke much later than usual and was not as frenzied as last year's.

"The kids market is really controlled by the three Ms, and they didn't let it get out of hand this year," said one network executive. The reference was to Mattel; and buyers John Muszynski, senior VP-executive director, national TV buying group, Starcom Media Services, Chicago; and Jon Mandel, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Grey Advertising, New York.

Mattel's media is bought by TN Media, New York. Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom has clients including Kellogg Co. and McDonald's Corp.'s kids account. Grey handles Hasbro and Kraft Foods' cereals.

Last year, Nickelodeon was able to panic advertisers into moving the kids market early, before marketers had really set ad plans. This year, with Nickelodeon essentially out of the picture, marketers were able to hold off until their plans had firmed up.

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