TV Upfront

Turner Nears Upfront Finish Line

Dollar Volume Down, But Data Deals Gain Traction

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Turner Broadcasting has nailed down the last of its upfront deals with the top media-buying agencies, making it the only cable conglomerate without a corporate broadcast affiliation to come close to wrapping up its 2015-16 business.

People with insight into Turner's negotiations said the company's entire portfolio, a collective that includes TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network, is effectively done writing deals.

TNT's 'The Last Ship.'
TNT's 'The Last Ship.' Credit: TNT

While the unofficial "upfront omerta" policy makes it tricky to get a read on exactly which agencies have signed off on their deals -- for example, multiple people on Tuesday claimed that OMD thus far had been hesitant to write any business -- a network insider said that all the major buying shops have signed off on Turner's portfoilo.

Turner is said to be very much in line with the overall TV marketplace in terms of the volume of dollars it booked in advance. With nearly one-tenth fewer gross ratings points to sell in this year's bazaar (Turner's targeted C3 ratings were down 9% year-over-year), its estimated 5% decline in total upfront sales may be seen as a moderate downturn, especially if overall TV volume falls 10%, as Wall Street anticipates.

Buttressed by its robust sports holdings -- along with the NBA and Major League Baseball, Turner also shares the rights to the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, and will for the first time broadcast the championship game -- and general entertainment franchises, Turner commanded average cost per thousand increases of 4%.

The many caveats about upfront numbers are spelled out here. As for the verifiable financial figures, per its annual 10-K filing with the Securities Exchange Commission, Turner in 2014 generated $4.57 billion in ad sales revenue, up 1% from $4.53 billion in the year-ago period and up 6% versus 2012's $4.32 billion.

Buyers can expect a build-up in fresh programming at TNT and TBS as relatively new entertainment president Kevin Reilly revvs up development at the two tentpoles. The former Fox boss has green-lit a number of new projects, including "The Alienist," a psychological thriller based on the Caleb Carr best seller; "Animal Kingdom," an exploration of crime in a surfside community; and "The Group," a comedy pilot about alien abductees helmed by Conan O'Brien and Greg Daniels ("The Office").

Beyond the programming side of the business, Turner has mustered up a good deal of enthusiasm for its suite of data products, which allow for everything from advanced targeting to audience buys to return-on-investment guarantees. Having kicked the tires on data-driven deals in the 2014-15 bazaar, Turner this year came into the market prepared to make Big Data a centerpiece of its negotiations, and buyers have responded in kind.

While Turner sales execs get ready to convert holds to orders, a number of other programmers are also doing deals. Discovery Communications and Viacom are said to be done with about half of their respective upfront business, while NBCUniversal's sales team could close out just in time to catch the last Air Taxi out to Southampton before the holiday weekend kicks off.

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