Road to the Upfront: ABC

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This is the first in a series of reports on TV networks leading up to the 2005/2006 upfront market. Next week: Turner Broadcasting

Upfront host: Prime-time Entertainment President Steve McPherson.

Other side of the table: President-sales Mike Shaw

Performance in 18-49s: up 15% to 3.9 rating/10 share. No. 3, behind Fox, CBS*

Performance in total viewers: up 11% to 10.4 million*

Best new shows: ABC has six of the top 10 new shows, including No. 1-ranked "Desperate Housewives" and No. 3-ranked "Lost," as well as "Boston Legal," "Wife Swap," "Supernanny," and "Rodney."

Best returning show: Sunday's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Compared to the same point last year, the show has improved ABC's performance in the hour by 7.7 million viewers and by 144% in adults 18-49.

Weakest areas: NBC and CBS have shut ABC out of Thursdays and buyers feel the network needs to do better with its sitcom line-up on Fridays.

Most successful product placement/sponsorship deal: Sears involvement with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is a much envied partnership. Buick signed the only product placement deal for "Desperate Housewives," which now includes mini-updates of the series on America Online.

Audience average age: 45.2, slightly younger than last season's 45.3

Audience's median income: $52,000 (fourth quarter, 2004) up from $51,000 (fourth quarter 2003).

Last year's CPM increase: 5%

Last year's upfront haul: $1.6 billion, slightly down from the previous year's $1.7 billion. (Excludes sports and specials such as the Academy Awards.)

How ABC is positioned for upfront 2005/2006: Anyone who bet on ABC in last year's upfront got a great deal. Few buyers had any inkling that ABC would be up so significantly this season. ABC's much stronger position is bound to drive stiff price increases. The cost of a :30 spot in "Desperate Housewives" has tripled since its debut last year to between $300,000 and $400,000.

The buyers' verdict: "I'm happy with what they've done. All they needed was one or two hits and they've got them. I like that there's competition, it levels the playing field. In terms of the upfront, CPM increases are always dependent on supply and demand, and supply is flat. We'll have to see about demand" - Andy Donchin, senior VP-broadcast, Aegis' Carat.

Cable assets: ESPN/ABC Sports, Disney Channel, SoapNet, ABC Family

* Season-to-date performance: Sept 20, 2004 through Feb 20, 2005.

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