Upfront 07

Second-Quarter Scatter Already Off to a Brisk Start

News Segments Tight, Audience Erosion an Issue

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As the last TV ad units of the year's first quarter are sold off, eyes are already turning to the all important second-quarter scatter market -- the most scrutinized indicator of upfront health.
The popularity of morning shows such as NBC's 'Today' has created a tight ad inventory.
The popularity of morning shows such as NBC's 'Today' has created a tight ad inventory.

The second quarter is two weeks away and already some trends are emerging: Early morning and evening news is starting to tighten up along with sought-after daytime properties in syndication. A tight scatter market usually translates to a stronger position for the TV networks as they head into the upfront negotiations, the period when up to 80% of available airtime is sold to advertisers.

'Every flavor of client'
Jackie Kulesza, VP-director of Starcom Worldwide, said the second quarter is expected to sell at similar levels to the first. "It's every flavor of client, it's money from a variety of sources, people who had upfront money, new product launches, people simply spending more money."

Media buyers are reporting difficulty getting available pods in network news broadcasts and early-morning programming. Morning shows, such as NBC's perennial No. 1 "Today," which is even adding a fourth hour to its broadcast, tend to sell out faster because their popular with all kinds of advertisers and generally a cheaper alternative to prime time.

Buying news -- morning or evening -- in scatter, however, is proving expensive. The daypart could cost anywhere from flat-to-low double-digit increases above upfront pricing levels, depending on the mix, one major media buyer said. By comparison, prime entertainment packages are running mid-to-high single digits above upfront levels. Coveted daytime syndicated programming, such as "Oprah" and "Ellen," is also difficult to buy, according to agency execs.

First-quarter make-goods
The brisk business in the first quarter was, in part, due to a number of networks that underdelivered their promised audience, so they used their last remaining airtime at the end of the quarter for "make-goods."

Through week 25 (to March 11) of the season, in live ratings for the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, ABC was down 21.4%, NBC was down 5.9%, CBS was down 2.6% and Fox was down 2.6%.

"There is scatter tightness and add-on erosion. I'm concerned about prime time, daytime and early morning," Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast at Carat, said, but with the caveat that the second and third quarters are "always better sold." Overall, he described the flow of TV ad dollars to both broadcast and prime time as "constant."

Season finales
Second quarter includes the month of May, when networks air their shows' season finales, a popular buy for some advertisers looking to target a large audience. Among the more in-demand finales are NBC's "Heroes," CBS' "CSI," and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

Those season-ending ad units, however, will come at a price. Broadcasters are packaging their best shows with some of the reality shows planned over the coming weeks. "So You Think You Can Dance?" is returning to Fox (May 26), while ABC has the "Great American Dream" (with Donny Osmond, on March 28) and "National Bingo Night" (May 18). NBC has already brought back "Identity" and is prepping for a second go-around for the Simon Cowell-produced "America's Got Talent."
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