Upfront moves as early buyers cut TV ad deals

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In an attempt to beat the market, several media buyers began to cut upfront deals immediately after network programming presentations were completed last week.

Starcom Media, MediaVest and Media Edge were among those that inked early pacts with such networks as NBC, and paid cost-per-thousand increases of 10% to 12% over last year.

Even that level may be a bargain; prognosticators expect average CPM increases of 15% to 17%. Overall, analysts expect broadcast network prime-time upfront revenue to climb 10% to $7.7 billion.


Buyers that move early "can show their clients that in a hot economy they have done a bit better than the market overall," said one veteran media executive.

The network upfront kicks into high gear this week, and is expected to move quickly. Buyers and sellers were expected to work through the weekend on client plans so they can be make deals as rapidly as possible.

For their programming, the networks had much to spotlight during presentations. Perhaps the biggest surprise was CBS announcing that Bette Midler would star as herself in an 8 p.m. (ET) Wednesday sitcom. "The Bette Show" will go head-to-head with the ABC juggernaut "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

CBS is also re-creating the 1960s series "The Fugitive," which will star Tim Daly and run on Friday nights. CBS presented seven new programs this year, as did Fox.


Fox was the most intriguing network for advertisers. Due to a steep drop in ratings -- 15% overall this season -- the network revamped huge parts of its schedule, completely overhauling Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Fox has John Goodman as a gay father in "Don't Ask." Fox has few other star vehicles, instead relying on such unknowns as stand-up comedian Robert Schimmel.

"What choice did we have?" said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Entertainment Television Group. "We had a lot of holes to fill."

Trying to return some zip to its schedule, NBC will bring back "Seinfeld's" Michael Richards as a bumbling inspector in a Tuesday sitcom. Aaron Spelling will create another soap-drama, "Titans," which will run in an unusually early time slot, 8 p.m. Wednesday.


ABC will expand "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to four nights -- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Because of the show's overpowering success, ABC made few other changes to its schedule. The network added four new shows, including a hospital drama, "Gideon's Crossing," that stars Andre Braugher, a black actor formerly appearing on NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street."

"Clearly there is more diversity on the schedule this year, particular-ly in the Afro-American area -- and that's a good thing," said Bob Igiel, president of the broadcast division of the Media Edge, New York.

The WB, looking to grab young viewers on Friday nights, will pick up ABC's "Sabrina: The Teenage Witch." It will air at 8 p.m., and be followed by a spoof on the teen soap genre, "Grosse Pointe."

UPN also picked up an ABC show -- "The Hughleys" -- which will air 9 p.m. on Monday nights.

Overall, analysts believe networks are becoming a little more prudent when it comes to shifting or canceling programs.

"They are letting these shows develop," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of broadcast audience research for Horizon Media. "They are not pulling shows off."

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