EYES NOW ON PRIME-TIME TV UPFRONT: ABC, CBS MAY CUT EARLY DEALS; KIDS PROGRAMMING SALES RISE 20%

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With the upfront sales for kids TV programming now mainly a mopping-up operation, ad agency buyers are already talking about prime time.

The prime-time upfront market isn't expected to break early, as the kids market did this year, but there might be a lot of dealmaking in advance.

'SNEAKING' EARLY DEALS

"The question isn't whether the networks will go earlier than usual with prime, but if there will be a significant number of pre-upfront deals," said one media executive at a major agency. Added another, "You're going to see some advertisers and agencies sneak in there with early deals."

Ratings powerhouse NBC isn't expected to cut early deals, though ABC, with a declining ratings situation, is more likely to. Buyers anticipate a strong upfront market.

"NBC certainly won't, [but] CBS could, given its older demographics," said the first media executive, adding, "Fox isn't likely, and I don't think buyers would be so eager to do early deals with them anyway. It's ABC that's the big question mark."

The kids upfront was nearly over before it began, with a frenzy of early buying producing a $100 million-plus jump in total sales.

$840 MIL IN KIDS UPFRONT

When the smoke clears, media executives predict, kids upfront will produce roughly $805 million to $840 million in ad sales, up 15% to 20% from last year. Cable networks expect to grab well over $300 million of the pie, with Nickelodeon getting the lion's share, as much as $290 million.

Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, a major kids player with such clients as Kellogg Co. and McDonald's Corp., finally closed deals with Nickelodeon, according to network insiders. The stumbling block had been Nickelodeon's initial insistence that advertisers make firm commitments, without the customary options, for orders extended to the third quarter of 1999.

The major player on the broadcast side, Fox Kids Network, wrote cost-per-thousand increases in the 13% to 16% range, buyers said. However, with ratings down, Fox was said to be off about 5% in total revenue.

According to a Securities & Exchange Commission filing, last year Fox wrote $110 million in the kids market. Estimates originally had Fox writing about $175 million last year, but the company had to give cash back due to ratings shortfalls.

On the syndication side, Boh-bot Entertainment & Media's Madison Green Entertainment seemed to be the major winner, with midteen increases. Walt Disney Co. got single-digit CPM increases, but with fewer shows this year-and a move to mornings-only wrote about half as much business as it did last year.

EXPANDED ROLE FOR SHAW?

Also in Disney land, rumors persist that Mike Shaw, senior VP-advertising sales for Buena Vista Television, will add responsibility for the ABC/Disney Saturday morning schedule. Further, a number of media executives have heard that Bob Iger, president of ABC Inc., will get promoted sometime this year to a corporate Disney position, and be replaced by Exec VP Stephen Burke.

ABC declined to comment.

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