TV Upfront

ABC, Fox knotted in demo deadlock

Both nets tied for first among 18-49s; CBS touts Super Bowl; NBC big on China Olympics

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This month's upfront bash is bursting at the seams with new-media wannabes joining cable TV and syndication in the chase for advertisers' annual budget commitments. Setting the agenda for all, however, is the prime-time broadcast market and how the estimated $9 billion pie is sliced.

Broadcast networks' negotiations will set the bar for cost-per-thousand rates across cable and syndication. They will also decide the outcome in the face-off over whether advertisers should have to pay for viewers who watch shows the next day or a week later via digital video recorders. So what does each network have up its sleeve this year to convince advertisers to place their bets with them?

ABC, arguably in the best position given that it tops the 18-to-49-year-old demographic rankings season-to-date (through Week 32), comes to market with a number of strong cards. ABC has worked hard to establish a place for advertisers in the company's new-media offerings, which now include a test that sees programming streamed from its Web site.

In addition to housing hot shows-add "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Inventor" to the obvious hit series from last year-ABC came out early with a new research tool. ABC's optimizer, titled "M4," is aimed at helping advertisers figure out where most of their prospective customers are.

Losing the NFL Monday package to Walt Disney Co. sibling ESPN will give ABC an added night to program and increase the number of hours it has to sell to general-market advertisers.

Fox, tied for first place with ABC in the key advertiser demographic, formed part of a wide pitch by News Corp. in March. That was focused on three things: branding News Corp. properties as the place to reach 12-to-24-year-olds, explaining to advertisers a simplified cross-platform sell and underscoring the Fox family digital media offering, from phones to Web sites in addition to broadcast and cable.

CBS is home to the Super Bowl next year, and the network will be talking that up, alongside its prospects of remaking its news division. The network's biggest talent signing in recent years is Katie Couric, who will fill the evening news anchor chair starting next fall. She's expected to bring a fresh, younger audience to the 6:30 p.m. (ET) slot, though CBS is no doubt hoping her departure will cause some damage to the high-grossing NBC morning show, "Today."

Fourth-place NBC will be touting new shows; it made early commitments to a number of series including "The Black Donnellys" and "Kidnapped," showing them to advertisers at the development meetings in March. NBC is still the one to beat in news, but many prime-time shows continue to suffer declines. The network will talk up the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The CW, formed from the merger of CBS' UPN and Time Warner's The WB, is a big unknown at this point, but it's fair to say its rivals are hoping to take chunks out of The CW's combined ad revenue. On the distribution front, any fears that The CW might not get the backing of affiliates have been dispelled. At press time, The CW was in 81% of homes.

On the programming front, the new network is making broadcast network history. The CW launches with the best shows of two networks, from "Everybody Hates Chris" and "America's Next Top Model" to "Gilmore Girls" and "Beauty & the Geek."

The clamor to be heard about the rising importance of new platforms is sometimes making for strange bedfellows, with broadcast and cable heavyweights joining forces.

Comcast Corp., touting its video-on-demand offerings to media buyers late last month, noted that ABC and Fox are joining the cable company as on-demand partners. CBS and NBC were already on board, making their shows available on-demand a day after their network broadcasts. Viewers pay 99 cents for the VOD versions, which carry advertising, though not necessarily the same ads as the original broadcast runs.

Comcast touts these net deals as an indication that VOD is now a medium media buyers should be considering.

"With respect to all the sellers, the bar has been raised," says Shari Cohen, co-president of broadcast at MindShare, New York. "It's all about enhanced return on investment, the best prices, the best ideas, innovation across multiple platforms and greater accountability."
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