TV Upfront

FX Networks Upfront: Predicts Cable Will Grow 5%

Head of Ad Sales Also Sees 7% to 8% Price Increase for Top Cable Networks

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Kerri Russell on 'The Americans'
Kerri Russell on 'The Americans' Credit: FX

TV executives are starting to posture and make predictions for their annual upfront negotiations, where they seek commitments from ad buyers for commercial time in the new season.

FX Network's head of ad sales, Lou LaTorre, expects cable upfront commitments from ad buyers to rise by 5%, he said Wednesday. That would be a faster rate of growth than ad-supported cable achieved last year, when upfront deals rose 4.3% to $10.2 billion, according to an estimate last fall from the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. That 4.3% was a smaller improvement than in recent prior years.

As overall broadcast ratings continue to dwindle, Mr. LaTorre also said dollars will shift out of broadcast and into cable and digital, and that several cable networks will succeed in convincing ad buyers to count commercial ratings spanning seven days instead of the current standard of three.

When it comes to pricing, Mr. LaTorre said he expects a 7% to 8% increase in CPMs, the cost to reach a thousand viewers, for top-tier cable networks. Smaller cable networks will grow CPMs between 3% and 5%, Mr. LaTorre added.

Confident, self-interested predictions and other attempts to frame the coming talks are staples of the early upfront season. CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves often loudly says he expects big gains in ad rates. NBC this week argued that it should be measured by its performance among young viewers (where it is on track to win the season) instead of total viewers (where CBS wins).

FX enters the upfront marketplace rolling out an aggressive slate of new programming, including the limited series "Fargo" as well as "Tyrant" and "The Strain," which FX Networks CEO John Landgraf hopes will upend the vampire genre.

It's also been one year since the company announced the introduction of its newest channel, FXX, which looks to reach a younger male demographic with more comedy programming. But a year in, the company is sometimes still trying to figure out which of its programs should live on which channels; it has kept the animated comedy "Archer," for example, on the flagship network so far.

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which now runs on FXX, has been renewed for its 11th and 12th seasons. Mr. Landgraf expects "The Americans," on FX, to be renewed for a third season.

Next year will also mark the end to series like "Sons of Anarchy," "Wilfred" and "Justified," giving the company some holes to fill. The company will go from 11 originals this year to 20 series across the portfolio of channels, Mr. Landgraf said.

In 2015, FXX will introduce new comedies including "The Comedians," from Billy Crystal, and a Tracy Morgan project.

FXX will make its biggest effort for "The Simpsons," to which it acquired the exclusive cable rights at great cost last November. It plans to begin airing the show in August, starting with a 12-day marathon.

The company is also gearing up to introduce a dedicated app for the series, which will house episodes to stream and other content.

Mr. LaTorre said there's multiple opportunities with "The Simpsons" to stack episodes thematically by holiday, events and celebrities, in ways that could appeal to specific advertisers.

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