Upfront Forecast: Cable, syndie to climb 5%

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TV's cable and syndication upfront advertising markets will rise 5% in overall revenue compared with a year ago, according to an informal Advertising Age survey of media buyers and sellers.


The $3.8 billion booked by cable networks in the 2001-2002 upfront market could climb this year to just under $4 billion. Syndication is projected to rise to just under $1.8 billion, from $1.7 billion. Program prices, expressed in cost per thousand viewers (CPMs) and seen as a more accurate measure of the upfront market's vitality, should climb 1% to 3%, buyers and sellers said.

Broadcast networks are projected to book about $7.2 billion in the prime-time upfront, a 6% gain (AA, March 25). During the upfront market, advertisers book commercial time in advance of the coming TV season.

Buyers and sellers are still calculating cable and syndication estimates, but several echoed the optimistic view of Lynn Picard, exec VP-advertising sales at Lifetime. "Most definitely there will be a volume increase in cable," she predicted. "We are going to see more money coming our way from broadcast because of what has unfolded this year."

Due to steep ratings under-delivery, both Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and News Corp.'s Fox had to give free "make good" time to many marketers, reducing the amount of inventory available in the scatter market. That meant advertisers had to pay more for the slots that were available, and that more money initially earmarked for broadcast spilled over to cable and syndication.

"There is a lot of optimism," Ms. Picard said. "Business is steady and coming in. The money is there, and it is moving in the right direction."

no big hike expected

Media-buying executives are more cautious, in part a result of the strategies employed in the ritual posturing by buyers and sellers. And while there are signs the economy is moving slowly out of a recession, that has yet to translate to a turnaround in the ad market.

"It's real hard at this point in time to peg what the increases are going to be in the upfront," said Mel Berning, exec VP-director of national broadcast for Bcom3 Group's Media-Vest Worldwide, New York. "It's safe to say more money will find its way into the upfront. I don't yet see company profits improving to the extent that you are going to see a big increase in advertising dollars."

Buyers also caution that, at least for cable, upfront performance is not necessarily a gauge of the overall health of the market. Last year, the cable upfront was estimated at $3.8 billion, but the medium raked in $7.4 billion overall, according to several media buyers.

"What matters is the total, and the upfront for cable isn't even 50% of the total," said Rino Scanzoni, president of national broadcast for WPP Group's MediaEdge:CIA, New York. The broadcast networks, by comparison, traditionally book 75% to 85% of their prime time inventory during the upfront.

Syndication was the hardest hit of the national TV media last year, with upfront spending sinking 26% to $1.7 billion. But the syndicated market has recently seen ratings and advertising growth.

As broadcast network inventory became scarce, advertisers funneled more money into off-network syndicated shows such as "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends" and "Seinfeld."

"I'm writing an awful lot of business in scatter," said Bob Cesa, exec VP-advertising and cable sales for News Corp.'s Twentieth Television. "Prices are firm, and if that continues into the third quarter, that's a good sign. We are going to make back some of the losses."

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