Surging demand appears to have also aided sales of ABC's priciest inventory, the 1995 Super Bowl, which is averaging about $1 million per :30 but is fetching as much as $1.3 million for some advertisers, the most ever spent for a network TV spot.
While fourth-quarter commitments are always firm, advertisers get options to cancel as much as half their buys in the first, second and third quarters. For '94-95, about 25%-or $275 million-of the $1.1 billion in first-quarter prime-time sales was optionable.
But it appears only $15 million to $25 million, or no more than 9% of optionable sales, will be canceled, making it one of the tightest first quarters ever.
"On average, usually about 20% of what's optionable gets canceled. This time, it looks like it's 10% or less," said Arthur Schreibman, president of the Botway Group, New York.
Advertisers typically overbuy in upfront; then later, when they exercise options that dump time back into the market, prices for scatter buys can collapse. But so far, that's not the case this season.
"The big question during the upfront was `Is there going to be a scatter market behind it?' Well, it looks like there is," said Marvin Goldsmith, president of sales and marketing for ABC. Mr. Goldsmith said the networks had a record selling season during the upfront, getting nearly $4.5 billion in prime-time buys.
In the scatter market, fourth-quarter prices soared an average of 50% over upfront rates for both prime time and daytime. Only ABC is said to have daytime inventory available and is believed to be raising prices as demand increases.
CBS, suffering from a significant ratings shortfall in prime time and daytime, had to release most of its daytime scatter inventory as make-goods. In prime time, CBS has been forced to provide about $25 million in first-quarter units as make-goods.
As a result, buyers say the entire scatter marketplace has grown incredibly tight. Prime-time scatter units are averaging about 50% over the cost of upfront units, and some high-demand shows are fetching as much as twice their upfront prices. ABC is believed to have sold at least one recent "Roseanne" 30-second unit for $650,000, a 110% increase over its upfront rate of $310,000.
Some relief has come from NBC, which has had strong ratings and has been able to release some time that it was holding back for make-goods, but that won't be enough to compensate for CBS' shortfall.
"NBC is releasing units for sale as CBS is eating up its reserves. Somebody's misfortune is somebody else's fortune," said Aaron Cohen, exec VP-national broadcast at N W Ayer & Partners' Media Edge.
Mr. Cohen said the heightened demand stems from an overall increase in demand, particularly from the automotive, movie and telecommunications categories.
"It is a sign that people did not overspend in the upfront and that they have faith in the continued strength of the economy," he said. "At this point, barring some unforeseen event, I would expect the strength to continue into the second and third quarters."