TV Upfront

Fox Networks Group Puts a Bow on the Upfront

Broadcast and Cable Outlets Post Flat Volume in a Down Market

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Taraji Henson as Cookie Lyon and Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon on 'Empire.'
Taraji Henson as Cookie Lyon and Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon on 'Empire.' Credit: Fox

The Fox Broadcasting Company and its sibling cable networks are effectively done with their 2015-16 upfront business, with dollar volume across the portfolio flat versus a year ago.

This marks the first year Fox's prime-time inventory was bundled with the cable properties, which include FX, FXX, National Geographic Channel and Fox Sports. People with insight into the negotiations say that the broadcast net's advance bookings were off between 4% and 5% when compared to last year's bazaar, a decline that essentially was balanced out by volume increases on the cable side.

As always, all numerical data related to the upfront marketplace are just so much layaway. The figures that matter most are the ones that appear in the quarterly earnings statements.

Given that analysts believe the overall broadcast market could be as down as much as 10% in dollar volume, the Fox results weren't nearly as negative as some had predicted earlier this spring. That the network's volume drop wasn't nearly as severe must be particularly reassuring to Fox execs, given that the network had nearly one-fifth fewer GRPs to sell this year. (Per Nielsen, Fox's targeted C3 ratings were down 19% year-over-year.)

As was reported earlier, Fox made concessions on pricing, writing CPMs that were flat to down 2% versus last year's rates. Given the network's historically inflated pricing, the rollbacks were largely viewed as a corrective measure. Cable CPMs were up a few ticks.

For all the discord of last fall, when every new series other than "Gotham" failed spectacularly, Fox enjoyed a huge rebound in the latter half of the season, thanks to the record-smashing "Empire" and a strong showing from the new comedy "The Last Man on Earth." Moreover, the network also boasts the highest-rated, top-priced NFL package in its eight-game "America's Game of the Week" suite.

Last year's late-national NFC games averaged 26.6 million viewers and a 15.5 HH rating. This fall, Fox will offer advertisers a chance to snap up inventory in no fewer than four nationally televised Dallas Cowboys games, three Green Bay Packers contests and a pair of games featuring NFC Champs (and surprise Super Bowl also-rans) Seattle Seahawks. Those three franchises last season put up the biggest ratings of any NFL teams.

Interestingly enough, while Fox has never been terribly vocal about pushing for C7 ratings guarantees -- a currency that adds four days of playback and average commercial minutes to the standard C3 stream -- the broadcast net wrote more than half of its upfront deals against the expanded metric.

With Fox headed into the barn, the last big broadcast players left out on the track are NBC and ABC. Like Fox, both nets write cross-platform, cross-network deals. In recent years, both NBC and ABC have demonstrated a certain sort of implacability in their respective negotiations with buyers, a steely resolve that can lead to protracted periods of stasis. In 2013, NBC did not close out its final upfront deal until July 30, while ABC sauntered across the finish line on the first of August.

Since this year's bazaar first staggered out of starting gate a few weeks ago, the rallying cry among buyers and sellers has been "it's a slow, orderly market," a Thorazine sigh usually followed by "It'll get done when it gets done." To that end, the cable networks that are unaffiliated with any major broadcast outlets are now patiently waiting for their turn at the table.

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