In Depth

CBS Wraps Upfront Talks -- Says Its Undisclosed Ad Rates Are Higher Than Rivals' Prices

By Jeanine Poggi
Advertising Age

CBS has largely completed its upfront sales, according to the network.

"As we near the finish line, we are very confident that CBS has once again achieved the highest pricing and most total dollars in the upfront marketplace," the company said in a statement. "Agencies and clients continue to value the strength, stability and delivery that we provide as a pure-play broadcaster, and we are very pleased that in addition to C3, C7 is now playing a meaningful part in our negotiations."

CBS has been among the most vocal in asking advertisers to pay for ads viewed within seven days of their original airing rather than the current industry standard of three days. Media agency network GroupM agreed to negotiate broadly on that week-long basis, known as C7, this year for the first time.

Ad time in CBS's new "Thursday Night Football" is being sold separately from the rest of its prime-time schedule and is still being negotiated, according to a person familiar with the situation.

CBS declined to describe the dollar value of the ad commitments it secured, the amount of inventory it sold or the price increases it secured over last year's rates.

But media buyers and analysts said CBS was securing increases in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers as low as 5%. Other people familiar with the situation said the figure was slightly higher.

That's a drop from last year, when CBS secured ad commitments between $2.5 billion and $2.75 billion with price hikes between 7% and 8%.

While CBS again ended the season as the most-watched channel overall, its total viewership dropped 9%, meaning it had fewer ratings points to sell going into next season. It also lost its lead in viewers aged 18 to 49 years old, where NBC came in No. 1.

CBS is the first network to wrap up business in what has been a slow and quiet marketplace so far, with both media agencies and TV networks in no apparent rush to move things along.

Both sides have called the deal-making "deliberate," noting that pacts have gotten more complicated and time-consuming to work through as networks and advertisers look to package broadcast, cable and digital assets together and create deeper integrations and more creative executions.
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NBC Universal is about mid-way through its upfront negotiations, according to a person familiar with those negotiations.

The broadcast and cable group has sold about 50% of the inventory it plans to make available in the upfront marketplace, according to the person. It appears that most of these deals have been with a select few major agencies, with several media buyers saying they still haven't started securing commitments with NBC Universal.

An NBC spokeswoman declined to comment on negotiations.

The NBC broadcast channel is securing increases in the cost to reach 1,000 viewers, a measure in the industry known as a CPM, anywhere from 7% to above 8%, according to media buyers and an analyst. While NBC is expected to lead the market in CPM increases, the network is starting from a lower base than some competitors, having lagged in pricing amid lackluster ratings during previous years.

There's less clarity into the pacing at Fox and ABC.

Fox is securing price hikes between 2.5% and 4% depending on the deal being done, according to a person close to the situation.

Fox has been pushing to do more deals on a C7 basis. These types of deals tend to come with a discount, as a trade-off for paying for a longer window of viewing than has been standard.

This year there's also been a meaningful interest in late-night, according to both buyers and sellers. Traditionally more of an afterthought in upfront negotiations, over the past several years it has gained momentum, with one media buyer saying it is trending even stronger this year as a result of the changing landscape. Jimmy Fallon successfully took over "Tonight Show" this year, Seth Meyers now hosts NBC's "Late Night" and Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman at CBS next year.

Outside of NBC Universal, which is moving both its prime-time broadcast inventory and cable, few cable deals have actually been written yet. But several people close to negotiations have said FX Networks has started to complete some deals.

Turner Broadcasting is also deep in conversations, but the cable group has not yet completed any ad deals.

Viacom, which has been an early mover in recent years, going after volume rather than meaningful price hikes, is still sitting on the sidelines.

The syndication marketplace has also started moving for some major studios, but they are still in the early stages of securing ad commitments, according to media buyers and other people familiar with negotiations.