TV Upfront

CBS Nears the Upfront Finish Line

While Dollar Volume Slips, the Network Should Out-Earn the Rest of the Field

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'Supergirl,' coming to CBS this season.
'Supergirl,' coming to CBS this season. Credit: CBS
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The nation's most-watched TV network has nailed down the bulk of its 2015-16 upfront commitments, and while CBS is believed to have accumulated less dollar volume than it did a year ago, it remains confident that it will out-earn the rest of the field.

"As we near the finish line, we feel confident that when the upfront marketplace comes to a close, CBS will have secured more total dollars -- and the highest pricing -- of all the broadcast networks," CBS said in a statement, adding that the stability of its prime-time schedule and its massive reach continue to be valued by agencies and advertisers alike.

As was the case a year ago, CBS elected against furnishing details about its upfront negotiations, saying only that it made more C7 guarantees than it did during the 2014-15 bazaar. The network's decision to forgo the annual ritual of talking up CPMs and the percentage of ad inventory sold upfront is in keeping with a movement away from an industry-wide tradition that fostered a speculative, spectator-sport environment wholly inimical to the very process of negotiating deals.

Media buyers said CBS had secured mid-single-digit CPM increases compared to last year's upfront rates. When all is said and done, the overall broadcast market is expected to walk away from the table with premiums between 3% to 4%.

CBS Corp. in 2014 generated $7.02 billion in total ad sales revenue.

While broadcast dollars are expected to be down versus last year -- buyers estimate that total commitments will be down between 5% and 10% -- CBS remains in an enviable position. Not only did CBS once again finish tops in its target demo (adults 25-54), but it was edged out by NBC among the 18-49 set by a mere one-tenth of a ratings point -- this despite the fact that the Peacock aired the Super Bowl. CBS also can lay claim to TV's biggest, most expensive comedy ("The Big Bang Theory"), a host of some of the top-rated dramas ("NCIS," "Scorpion," "NCIS: New Orleans") and, thanks to "Thursday Night Football," more NFL inventory than any of its rivals.

Speaking of the NFL, this year also happens to be CBS's turn to broadcast the Super Bowl. CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves in February told analysts that a 30-second spot in Super Bowl 50 would fetch north of $5 million a pop.

Also giving CBS a leg up is its stewardship of one of the fall's most anticipated new shows ("Supergirl") and a new face in its late-night lineup (Stephen Colbert).

Given that CBS isn't 100% finished with its upfront negotiations, it is impossible to estimate how much inventory the network sold, on a percentile basis. Last year, CBS said it moved about three-quarters of its available ad time before the start of the fall season.

A recent surge in the scatter market suggests that the networks who do hold back a little more for non-upfront deals could command a premium in the fall.

As CBS tidies up the last of its deal-making activity, Fox, NBC and ABC continue to negotiate with buyers. All three broadcasters are bundling their prime time avails with time on their respective sibling cable nets.

The CW closed out the last of its deals on Thursday night.