Cable scatter selling out in second quarter

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Demand for cable is stronger than demand for broadcasters going into upfront presentations, judging by the second-quarter scatter market.

Cable networks are faring well in the second quarter, with several already sold out. Broadcasters, however, have plenty of prime-time and late-night second-quarter scatter availabilities.

TNT and TBS, USA Network and FX have all sold out and Lifetime is close to writing its last second-quarter scatter deals, media buyers and sellers report. But it's not just the top-tier networks selling out, but the mid-tier, niche players as well, including National Geographic Channel, Fuse and Bravo.

"[The cable market] is a patchwork of different networks with varying sellout levels," said Bob Flood, exec VP-director national electronic media at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia. "Certain ones have sold out, I'm sure."

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And that shouldn't be surprising, said Gary Carr, senior VP-director of broadcast, TargetCast, New York. "It's the middle of May," he said. "People who had to get money down in the second quarter have long ago done it. By this time, most markets should be pretty full."

Yet it's a dramatic turnaround from earlier this year, when several major marketers-including Procter & Gamble Co., Pfizer, Kraft Foods and Mitsubishi Motors-pulled back on second-quarter commitments, leading to a soft scatter market. Some TV sales executives reportedly dropped prices as much as 5% below upfront levels to offload inventory in the first and second quarter. Network executives usually count on selling scatter at premium prices, which motivates advertisers to maintain or increase upfront commitments priced at guaranteed levels.

Cable has seemingly bounced back with an influx of dollars from such categories as package goods, wireless, imported autos, movies and retail. Additionally, because cable's prices are lower, it also attracts small advertisers with lighter media budgets.

"The fact of the matter is, it's a very good psychological data point, but doesn't necessarily have a direct correlation," said Rich Goldfarb, senior VP-media sales, National Geographic Channel. Mr. Goldfarb said he has been sold out of second-quarter scatter for two weeks, garnering double-digit increases over upfront pricing. Earlier this month, NBC Universal's then head of sales Jeff Lucas noted USA Network, Bravo and Sci-Fi Channel had been selling out scatter at record revenue.

At Scripps Networks, "inventory is very tight, but we may still have a little room on a couple of our networks," said Steve Gigliotti, exec VP-ad sales.

The cable news market is equally robust, said CNN's Greg D'Alba. Both Fox News and CNN's ratings are up double digits while broadcast news ratings have suffered.

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