Cable Upfront Market Halfway Done With Sales

Expected to End by Next Week With 10%-15% Increase

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NEW YORK ( -- With the envelope effectively sealed on this year's broadcast upfront, which wrapped early this week with a higher-than-expected final take of $9.2 billion, now it's off to the races for cable. The cable upfront, projected by several major analysts and media buyers to increase as much as 10% to 15% this year over 2007's take of $7.68 billion, will head into the weekend about 40% to 50% wrapped, according to several key media buyers and network executives.

After handful of cable upfront deals last month from networks like Nickelodeon and Hallmark Channel, the cable upfront began moving in earnest late last week when Turner began to close major deals with agencies based on its "prime-time replacement" package, selling high-rated shows like TNT's "Closer" and TBS' "House of Payne" as efficient alternatives to their broadcast counterparts, which tend to be priced higher and has been hit hard with a ratings decline. Two executives familiar with the negotiations said Turner has logged cost-per-thousand viewer increases in the 8% to 9% range, with Turner business as much as 70% wrapped up by the weekend.

Lifetime's business nearly complete
Lifetime expects to be finished this week. "We expect to be done with our upfront by the end of today. Powered by the strength of our brand and programming, we are writing business with 9%-10% CPM increases and double-digit volume growth," a spokesman said.

The MTV Networks have also been dealing at a fast clip this week. At the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom Conference in New York on Monday, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said the company was about 75% done with its adult and kids upfront business, with significant increases in volume and pricing and driven by key categories like movie studios, wireless, quick-service restaurants and retail.

Of the latter category, he added, "We've seen some of the major retailers moving their ad dollars to younger demos as they're experiencing some difficulty. I know I mentioned automotive the last time in connection with [the second quarter]. Automotive has actually been strong, and some of the other automotive companies, who may be stepping in to take advantage of the weakness of one or two that we've been reading in the papers about. So we are feeling very good about it."

Pricing strategies
The NBC Universal cable networks, which include USA, Sci Fi, Bravo and Oxygen, have also adopted aggressive tactics this year by opting to deal separately from NBC's broadcast negotiations. In previous years, the cable networks had been bundled as part of larger NBCU upfront deals with major agency groups like Group M, and their pricing suffered as a result. One key buyer said NBC's move may not be paying off as well as they'd hoped, as the cable networks are still getting the same mid- to high-single-digit price increases they earned in last year's upfront.

With Turner, MTVN and NBCU driving the majority of deals this week, expect the Discovery, Scripps, Lifetime and Comcast networks to lead the pack next week. Several executives expect the majority of cable upfront business to be wrapped or close to wrapped by next Friday, if not sooner.
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