TV Upfront

Cable TV's Upfront Haul Declines for First Time in Four Years

Networks Secure $9.6 Billion, a 6% Decline in Ad Dollars

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'Are You the One?' on MTV
'Are You the One?' on MTV

Cable TV networks broke a four-year streak of rising ad commitments in this summer's annual upfront market, with total ad bookings dropping by 6% to $9.6 billion, according to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, a trade group for the cable industry.

Ad buyers' commitments to cable in last year's upfront totaled $10.2 billion, according to the group, up 52% from 2009.

It's harder to gauge broadcast networks' success in the upfront, where TV networks look to secure a bulk of their ad commitments for the upcoming TV season, because they don't report their results to an organization to compile the way cable does.

But in 2013, broadcasters secured between $8.7 billion and $9.3 billion, according to Ad Age estimates. Depending on whose numbers you believe, the big four and The CW may have secured under $9 billion in this summer's upfront. The industry consensus is that the upfront was weak and broadcasters as a whole lost ground.

The cable trade group attributed cable's decline in the upfront, where TV networks look to secure a bulk of their ad commitments for the upcoming TV season, to an increased desire among marketers to avoid getting locked in early.

"Several big-spending advertisers stated that they anticipated spending fewer ad dollars in this year's upfront, and nearly all cited increased flexibility as their reason why," Sean Cunningham, president-CEO, Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, said in a statement. "Cable networks are meeting this instinct for immediacy with multiscreen brand programs around hit shows."

Advertisers also sometimes refrain from committing to ad time in the upfront on the theory that it will be cheaper to buy closer to the air date in the so-called scatter market. Discovery Communications, conversely, said it sold less ad inventory in its upfront this year because it believed it could get higher prices in scatter.

It's also possible that some upfront dollars are shifting out of TV and into other digital platforms.

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