Withdrawn Money Being Spent With Other Networks

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NEW YORK ( -- Telecom giant Cingular Wireless has unexpectedly shifted millions of dollars in upfront media commitments out of Fox and is said to be spending the money with other broadcast networks, according to executives close to the situation.

The commitments, which industry executives have pegged at anywhere between $3 million and $25 million, were part of deal to purchase airtime on Fox sports programming. The change happened around three weeks ago and was the talk of the town at last week’s Association of National Advertisers conference in Phoenix.

Fox: 'Excellent relationship'
Jon Nesvig, president of Fox ad sales, would say only: “Our relationship with Cingular is excellent.” He would not comment on any changes to upfront buys. Fox is part of News Corp.

A Cingular spokesman said, "We aren't going to comment on what we might or might not do in the future and on any aspect of our ad spend."

Dropping a so-called upfront hold is rare for any major marketer, let alone one that has such a tight relationship with one TV network.

Two media buyers said they were shocked when they heard the news, given that the marketer is a major backer of the hit Fox show American Idol. One buyer even suggested that in these situations, broadcast networks generally mete out some form of retribution.

'American Idol' sponsor
Other marketers have been contacted about covering the hole left by Cingular’s pullout. The telecom giant, however, remains an American Idol sponsor. The series is due to return in January 2006 and will again air a handful of Monday evening shows in addition to the regular Tuesday and Wednesday broadcasts.

One executive with direct knowledge of the upfront change said it was simply the result of “politics.” Cingular inherited two media agencies following its purchase of AT&T Wireless. In March the company handed the TV buying and planning part of its $1 billion account to WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia (formerly AT&T Wireless' media agency), while Omnicom Group’s OMD handles radio and print buying.

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