Network Says It Sold 80% of Inventory for $1.9 Billion

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NEW YORK ( -- CBS said it has joined NBC in claiming a record for upfront advertising sales.

The Viacom-owned network said it will take in $1.9 billion to $2 billion in upfront sales -- the most ever in its history. It has sold more than 80% of its overall yearly inventory -- way up from the 66% it sold last year when it pulled in $1.3 billion.

CPM increase
The network said it achieved the the "highest CPM increases of all the major networks." Media executives say CBS was booking increases in CPM, or the cost per thousand viewers, in the 10% to 12% range. NBC had been inking deals in the 7% to 9% range.

Media executives have been saying that industry leader NBC grabbed $2.7 billion -- the most ever by a TV network, selling off 83% of its inventory. Last year, in a down TV ad market, NBC pulled in $1.9 billion.

Meanwhile, ABC executives denied a New York Times report that the network's upfront take was a disappointing $1.3 billion.

ABC sales
"That [figure] is

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under by hundreds of millions of dollars," said Susan Lyne, president of Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Entertainment. Executives said the network wrote approximately $1.5 billion in sales.

Speaking today at the Deutsche Bank Securities Media Conference, she said the improved economy seemed to help upfront sales.

"Thank God for robust demand," Ms. Lyne said. She said CPMs were much higher, and that inventory sales were "within several percentage points" of last year. She didn't specify just how close. Upfront ad revenue was virtually the same as last year's on every daypart, and -- given ABC's audience shortfall last season -- flat revenue could not have been possible without higher pricing, she explained.

ABC got "premium, A-tier dollars" for its new shows, chief among them the Tuesday night comedy Eight Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter, said Ms. Lyne.

AOL Time Warner
Wayne Pace, chief finacial officer at AOL Time Warner, said today the media company had written $100 million more in commitments for its broadcast network, the WB, this upfront over last year, and that CPMs have been at least at the same level as last year's upfront. WB grabbed $530 million and saw double-digit CPM increases.

The cable upfront is expected to perform as well or better, thanks to higher audience numbers for cable networks such as HBO, Mr. Pace said.

Surprising upturn
The surprising upturn in the market, though, had media buying executives questioning what would be left for the scatter market, as well as the cable and syndication parts of the upfront market, which are now just beginning.

Only when looking at these other areas can the strength of the overall TV ad business be determined, according to media agency executives.

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