Upfront Market Starts to Move

Fox, CBS, CW All Doing Deals

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Fox, CBS and the CW all have begun to write upfront business as of this morning, with Fox credited as the first mover in this year's upfront, followed by CBS, according to a number of media agencies. ABC had been expected to lead the market.
Fox was out shopping 'American Idol' packages, while media agency execs play CBS and ABC off each other.
Fox was out shopping 'American Idol' packages, while media agency execs play CBS and ABC off each other.

The News Corp. network has offered media agencies "American Idol" packages for around $20 million, according to one agency executive. The package includes everything from the program sponsorship to spots in the show and a host of digital opportunities. According to one executive close to the talks, two of the incumbent sponsors, Coca-Cola Co. and Cingular, are still in discussions about whether or not to renew.

Two media agencies report that Fox is asking for cost-per-thousand rate increases of 2% to 4%, as is CBS. But one major media-buying executive said that figure was too high and was looking to get flat-to-negative pricing from broadcast networks across the board. "The broadcast networks are at a stalemate because the agencies believe it's negative and the networks don't. If nothing moves, we'll start to do cable networks next week," the executive said. Another media-agency buyer believed Fox would be reasonable because of its need to break into new categories this year, adding that 2% to 4% seemed fair.

A number of agencies are continuing to play ABC against CBS, with some trying to push the Eye network to accept negative pricing -- meaning the network will cut prices from previous years -- despite its solid schedule. "ABC and CBS are in a very competitive situation," said one agency broadcast buyer, pointing out that ABC has an extra night to sell now that its broadcast of NFL games on Monday night has moved to ESPN. Two media-agency executives believed CBS had a lot of inventory to sell last year in the so-called scatter market, indicating the network held out inventory in last year's upfront.

ABC is believed to have cited a CPM increase anywhere from a plus-seven to a plus-four.

'Difficult pill to swallow'
The new CBS/Time Warner-owned CW is quietly signing deals, with pricing said to be at the same levels the WB commanded before it was merged with UPN to form the network. One agency executive believed CW had closed several deals the evening of June 2. "They're at parity with Fox. The pricing was a difficult pill to swallow, but they did sell pretty realistic audience projections." The network's Sunday night African-American programming block is also believed to be in high demand. Executives in the market said almost all the agencies have registered budgets with CW.

As expected, NBC came out with pricing flat on last year, media-agency executives said, though the market widely expects NBC to go negative. One particularly aggressive media-agency executive said NBC ought to be looking at cuts in the double-digit range, while another expected cuts of more than 3%. Another agency executive said few people had registered budgets with the network as of this morning.

The broadcast networks all declined to comment.
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