Cable vs. broadcast fight thaws out, a bit

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NBC's reporting of its cross-platform take gives some indication of internally changing attitudes about the age-old broadcast vs. cable battle. Last week, NBC Universal said it grabbed an estimated $5.3 billion in marketer upfront commitments for its broadcast and cable outlets, with Bravo increasing volume 100% and its cable outlets averaging a 20% rise overall.

Parent companies, such as NBC Universal, Viacom, News Corp, Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner, are all looking to their top sales executives to grab as much of the upfront moola as possible, whatever the entry point. And cable ad-sales executives are poised for their second go at the upfront dollars this week as negotiations with the networks wind down.

NBC, which closed its merger with Vivendi Universal in mid-May, has set a new tone of cooperation between broadcast and cable sales. NBC Universal now controls NBC and counts Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, Mun2TV, USA Networks, Sci-Fi Channel and Trio as part of its stable. "If you take a look at NBC, there's a strategy that they're all together," says a senior cable-sales executive. "They did it last year and they did more of it this year. But it is different at every company. CBS is still out there on its own because they have such a different audience to its cable channels, [while] Fox has never done a lot of that."

NBC has always left cable reporting up to Keith Turner, president-sales and marketing. "We see it as real advantage for our customers," an NBC spokeswoman says. He oversees sales at NBC, Pax, Bravo and CNBC and MSNBC. Jeff Lucas, who runs sales at USA Networks, Sci-Fi Channel and Trio, reports to Turner and they speak often about what deals are closing. (An NBC Universal spokeswoman says an overall cable chief has yet to be selected.)

With this year's broadcast upfront market expected to end slightly down at around $9.1 billion, sales executives are reportedly trading flexibility on CPM increases for greater volume at their cable siblings. NBC was known to be a flexible dealmaker this year.

NBC isn't the only place where the broadcast/cable fence is coming down. Anne Sweeney, newly installed president of Disney's ABC TV Networks came from ABC Cable networks. ABC sells SoapNet along with its daytime schedule, while ESPN sells its sports offering along with ABC's sports assets.

Viacom, which announced its gay-themed channel Logo in late May, now operates 17 cable stations. As the number of cable operations grows, so does the balance of revenue derived from each side. At Viacom broadcast operations (including TV production) reported 2003 revenue of $7.7 billion, compared to cable networks, which reported $5.6 billion.

portion control

At Fox Network, Jon Nesvig, president-sales, says there is some cooperation between himself and Fox's other cable stations. "We work together to unlock value," he says, adding, "We certainly wouldn't characterize it as pricing concessions." Fox Entertainment Integrated Marketing Group, the cross-platform operation, reports to him, while Fox News sales operations report to Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes.

One upfront buyer says that once the budgets are set, each player knows what portion is going to broadcast vs. cable. Then, the broadcast sellers might try to help their cable siblings once they know it isn't coming to them anyhow. Another buyer said the early start in cable had made negotiating with the networks "more civil, rational and skillful," and perhaps more willing to look for what this buyer called "an aggregate benefit."

The major media corporations haven't given up on cross-platform deals. Time Warner filled a long-vacant post by hiring former agency executive John Partilla as president of global marketing in May.

Though company executives point to Kids WB, which is sold by Cartoon Network, a previous attempt at WB-Turner Broadcasting cooperation met with only modest success. At Viacom, a resurgent CBS and a strong cable lineup has added little incentive to bend to advertisers demands, leaving Viacom Plus the main option for grabbing both network and cable eyeballs.

Who Owns What:

Viacom: CBS/UPN, Cable: MTV, MTV2, Nickelodeon, BET, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Noggin, The N, VH1, Spike TV among others.

NBC Universal: NBC/Telemundo, Cable: Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, Mun2TV, USA Networks, Sci-Fi Channel, Trio

Disney: ABC, Cable: ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC Family Channel, Soap Net

News Corp: Fox, Cable: Fox News, Fox Sports, National Geographic Channel, Fox Movie Channel, Fuel.

Time Warner: WB, Cable: TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, CNN

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