TV Upfront

Viacom Sees Surge in Upfront Activity

Owner of MTV, Comedy Central Is 50% to 75% Complete With TV Bargaining

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As the big broadcast networks start to write business as part of this year's "upfront" market, cable-network owner Viacom has already completed deals for 50% to 75% of the ad inventory it means to offer, according to a person close to the company and several media buyers familiar with the marketplace.

These executives said Viacom -- the owner of cable channels including MTV , VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon -- has been willing to sacrifice some pricing in order to drive additional volume from longtime sponsors. According to ad buyers, Viacom's goal has been to take a bigger share in the market while Time Warner 's Turner and Comcast's NBC Universal try to secure price increases.

Among the advertisers Viacom has done business with, said the person close to the company, are General Motors and Unilever. Viacom's deals come even as GM has been arguing with the broadcast networks over pricing, according to ad buyers and other executives.

Viacom may have reason to be flexible on pricing. Nickelodeon, along with other kiddie-focused outlets, has suffered from ratings issues. Viacom said in February that it has noticed some year-end softness in so-called "scatter" advertising, or ads purchased closer to their air date -- activity that is often taken as a barometer of advertisers' feelings about the economy. Scatter advertising began to stabilize in the first quarter, Viacom said later.

Viacom may be acting based on its sense of where the economy is headed. The stock market fell Friday as the unemployment rate inched up again.

Media executives also believe movie-studio ad spending, a large category for Viacom, could be in decline in the year ahead, the person close to the company said.

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