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NBC set a prime-time TV sales record for the second year in a row and broke the $2 billion barrier for the first time as the upfront market for the Big 4 networks hit a record $5.8 billion.

The network enjoyed an 18% surge from last year's $1.7 billion in advance sales and the highest cost-per-thousand increase of any network-10% to 13%. For its hot Thursday night lineup, NBC commanded increases of 15% or more.

"We have more `water cooler shows' than anyone else," said Larry Hoffner, NBC president of network TV sales.

TV executives said they were pleased to see increased sales despite continued audience declines.

"That's higher than everyone thought; everybody expected it to be down a bit," said Joe Abruzzese, CBS president of network sales. "Keeping it that high is a show of strength."


CBS sales were down 4% from last year's $1.3 billion; the network estimates it sold $1.25 billion at a 4% to 6% CPM increase. ABC was flat with $1.6 billion in prime-time sales and a CPM hike of 5% to 6%.

"Last year, we went a little younger but now we're going back more mainstream with 25-to-54-year-olds," said Marvin Goldsmith, ABC president of sales and marketing.

Fox said its upfront sales dipped 4.2% to $960 million from last year's $1 billion, due to a drop in prime-time inventory since the network will air the World Series this fall. It claimed better-than-expected CPM increases of 10%.


The WB network said its upfront sales will nearly double from $60 million to $115 million, the result of attracting 25 new advertisers. The network claimed CPM increases of 8% to 9%.

UPN Senior Exec VP Len Grossi said his network-with 1 hour less of prime time than WB-hit about $100 million upfront on 75% of inventory, up 11% from $90 million last year, with a CPM rate rise of 5% to 7%.

With $300 million combined spending behind three new stomach acid blockers alone, the over-the-counter drug market has been a boon to networks.

"There's a nice war going between these competing products and we sit in the middle and say, `Thank you,"' Mr. Goldsmith said.

Other categories said to have been strong for fall were motion pictures and automobiles. Nissan Motor Corp. USA spent close to $200 million in the upfront, according to several buyers.

Contributing: Mark Gleason.

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