Road to the Upfront: NBC Universal Cable Networks

Checking in With TV Networks as They Jockey for Position

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NEW YORK ( -- May's annual TV sales pitch and ad rate negotiations known as the upfront is right around the corner. We're here to help you keep track of the players. This is the second in Advertising Age's weekly series tracking cable and broadcast TV networks as they begin to lay out their positions. This week: NBC Universal's cable offerings.

Keith Turner
THE PLAYERS: USA Network, SciFi Channel and Bravo.

KEY EXECS: Keith Turner heads ad sales for all of NBC Universal TV Group. Last summer, he appointed former NBC station ad sales exec Mark Miller to take over cable ad sales from Jeff Lucas (now at Viacom). About the same time, the group began to sell more of its networks separately, rather than as a package. Bonnie Hammer leads both USA and SciFi; Lauren Zalaznick helms Bravo and its broadband channels.

THE RATINGS GAME: USA has steadily grown since adding "Monday Night Raw" -- so far this season its adult 18-to-49 viewers are up almost 7% to 1.1 million. In that demographic, SciFi is off 17% from the same period last year with 575,000, and Bravo is off 3% to 289,000. Comparing adult 18-to-49 viewers for the full year 2005 to those in 2004, USA was down 5%, SciFi down 7% and Bravo up 5%.

WHAT YOU'LL HEAR: Last year, USA gained steam after adding World Wrestling Entertainment's "Raw," which returned to the network last fall from Spike TV. At Spike, WWE sold the in-program advertising; at USA, NBCU handles the duties. USA will introduce a crime drama, "Psych," to complement its "Law and Order" franchises. SciFi will continue to expand the genre through shows such as hit "Battlestar Galactica" and other specials and miniseries. Bravo, meanwhile, has one of the hottest branded entertainment properties in "Project Runway."

LAST YEAR'S UPFRONT: NBCU got out ahead of some of the other more bullish cable nets. It was rewarded with CPM increases of 3% to 4%.

THE BUYERS' VERDICT: "USA has and continues to be a broad-based, well-rated network and SciFi has deftly broadened the appeal on both gender and generational lines to create a formidable viewing alternative," said John Rash, senior VP-director of broadcast negotiation at Campbell Mithun. SciFi's decline, he added "was more a reflection of not sustaining its previous breakout year. After several transitions, Bravo has found its niche and is performing well. It could use another breakout show."

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