Upfront buyers suss out market

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The TV upfront mating dance has started. Yes, already.

Broadcast and cable network sales executives say media buyers are already sniffing around for clues about the coming upfront-possibly setting the stage for early deals.

The strong scatter market during the broadcast year-which has seen historically low cancellation rates of between 2% and 8%-are encouraging these discussions, according to media-selling executives.

"It's incredible. The last upfront market was so strong and at the same time scatter-market cancellations were so low," said Bill Abbott, exec VP-advertising sales for Hallmark Channel, who said he has received inquiries from media buyers. "We are seeing clients come in February to talk about upfront where they used to come in April. We could potentially see an accelerated market."

The WB also has fielded numerous inquires from major buyers, according to its executives. Its limited inventory has consistently put the network in high demand. A WB spokesman had no comment.

Some media-buying executives painted talk of early deals as wishful thinking on the part of sellers.

"The upfront?" said Mel Berning, president of U.S. broadcast for Publicis Groupe's MediaVest Worldwide, New York. "When is it? Next week? Call Colin Powell and tell him to hold up things. We have to do the upfront."

More seriously, Mr. Berning noted that in an integrated media environment, "now, we talk all year long about things," Mr. Berning said. "That's what we do for a living."

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