Cable upfront: Fox trumpets victory over CNN

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Fox News claims it's won the upfront among the cable news networks, besting CNN and MSNBC.

News Corp.'s Fox pulled in about $150 million in ad dollars, with cost per thousand rate increases of 10% to 12%, according to Paul Rittenberg, senior VP-advertising sales at Fox News. The rise, coupled with increases from last year, Mr. Rittenberg said, have leveled the playing field on pricing between his network and AOL Time Warner's CNN.

"Essentially we are at parity or ahead of them in pricing, and we have been for the last six to nine months," he said. Mr. Rittenberg predicts that by year's end, Fox News will take in $300 million in advertising dollars, which is more than double the $120 million reported by TNS Media Intelligence/CMR last year.

"Fox's CPMs were so low in the first place," said an executive at a rival network. "They were the cheapest buy out there, and they had the best performance. They were a bargain."

CNN, meanwhile, is calling for a recount. At the Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles last week, Jim Walton, chairman of CNN News Group, admitted that Fox has more total viewers than CNN but said his network's CPMs are still 40% higher.

upscale viewers

Mr. Walton said that CNN's viewers are more upscale than Fox audiences and advertisers are willing to pay higher prices to reach them. Greg D'Alba, exec VP-chief operating officer of CNN sales and marketing, said that his network took in CPM increases "anywhere from 8% to 10%," with revenue up 30% from last year. Some media buyers, however, estimated CNN actually pulled in CPM increases of about 5%.

"We still get better value for our air time and ad time," said Mr. D'Alba. "We're still beating [Fox] coming out of this year."

"It's obvious that Fox News has been making up ground," said a senior media buyer at a top agency. "But I don't know if they've achieved parity or not. CPM increases of 10% to 12% for them is accurate. There used to be a big gap between Fox and CNN. I don't know if 12% is enough to close it completely, but they made up ground last year as well."

MSNBC, on the other hand, racked up approximately $70 million in the upfront with CPM increases of 6% to 8%, according to executives with knowledge of the matter. Last year, MSNBC took in about $57 million in ad sales.

In 2nd quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research, Fox attracted 2,128,000 total viewers in prime time and 1,297,000 in total day; while CNN counted 1,242,000 in prime time and 790,000 total day. MSNBC had 541,000 in prime time and 399,000 total day.

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