Tricon deal spices up slow upfront

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On the heels of Viacom's major cross-platform pact with Procter & Gamble Co., News Corp. has reached an agreement with Tricon Global Restaurants on an estimated $100 million deal with similar scope.

Like the Viacom/P&G buy that covered ad space on a dozen broadcast and cable networks, the News Corp./Tricon agreement is expected to include the Fox broadcasting network, cable networks and the company's syndication unit. News Corp. owns the Fox News Channel and FX Channel, among other cable outlets. The Fox-owned local stations could also be included.

The deal was configured by the cross-media sales unit News Corp. One and WPP Group's Media Edge, New York, which serves as the buying agency for the fast food company that operates the Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut chains.

A significant part of the pact is believed to include Fox's National Football League coverage.

A News Corp. spokesman declined to comment. A Tricon spokesman said he was unaware of the deal.

The agreement was one of the few signs of activity in the TV marketplace last week as the upfront season began with all the energy of a dripping faucet, frustrating networks pitching sales and delighting media buyers content to wait for favorable terms.

Besides the News Corp. deal, Viacom's Viacom Plus division, which made the $300 million P&G deal (AA, May 7), and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Unlimited are also said to be targeting fast-feeders such as Burger King Corp., McDonald's Corp. and even Tricon for sprawling cross-platform deals.

Among the other glacial marketplace movement, Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago, is one of a slim number of agencies who have registered their clients' budgets with media sellers. Bcom3 Group sibling MediaVest Worldwide, New York, is said to have done the same.

"The slowness of the market clearly indicates the fact that there is less money, and people are carefully reviewing their options," said Bob Igiel, president-broadcast division at Media Edge. "I have to believe that it'll start moving around June 15. But you'll have movement until August."

That would be a sharp contrast to last year's three-day buying frenzy where deals were often cut around sunrise after all-night haggling.

Another rumor making the rounds was that AOL Time Warner's WB has done some select upfront deals. Some media sales executives believe the WB will be the only network to eke out cost per thousand increases vs. last year, expected to be in the 1% to 2% range. Others believe the network will see CPM decreases from last year.

Both Fox and CBS could limit losses to a 1% or 2% decrease in CPM vs. a year ago, or possibly maintain flat pricing.

Viacom's UPN could drift lower as well, with some shows seeing 3% to 4% CPM declines. For its recent acquisition, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," UPN has floated the idea of selling the show separately from the rest of its schedule.

The bottom two networks could be ABC and General Electric Co.'s NBC, which both could drop 5% or more from last year. Cable networks are also in a wait-and-see mode and could see decreases in the 15% range. One executive, in particular, said the USA Networks' USA will struggle since it has been under-delivering to advertisers by almost 30% in some cases.

Its huge amount of make-goods promised to one client forced an advertising executive to comment, "They owe me a free year."

Contributing: Kate MacArthur

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