By John Consoli
Special and Exclusive to TVWeek
Fox is the first broadcast network to complete its upfront selling, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, at prime time rate increases averaging between 11 and 12 percent, which has the other networks grumbling that Fox should have held out for higher increases.
With the most anticipated new show for next season, "The X-Factor," teamed with veteran ratings juggernaut "American Idol," Fox apparantly believes its overall ratings points will be up for next season and so it could charge less of an increase to sell more inventory. Sources said Fox, for the first time, would most likely take in more than $2 billion in prime time upfront dollars. The network was estimated to have taken in $1.9 billion last year.
Fox had no comment but, as it usually does, is expected to issue a formal statement announcing its completion of negotiations shortly.
Ad sales executives at the other braodcast networks, hoping to get cost-per -thousand increases in the 13-15 percent range heading into the upfront negotiations, were very upset that Fox opted for more revenue at lower price hikes than these competing executives said Fox could have gotten if it would have held out.
One competing network executive, who declined to speak for attribution, opined that with "Idol" and "X-Factor" as two of the potentially highest rated shows in prime time, Fox could have waited and eventually driven up its percent increases. This competing network exec predicted that "most of the other broadcast networks will look to do their cumulative prime time business at an average increase higher than Fox."
"They moved too quickly," said an annoyed sales executive at another one of the competing broadcast networks, who also requested anonymity. "Even the agencies were surprised and would have paid higher rates if Fox had held out longer. I can’t believe they left money on the table."
Of course grousing of this nature–anonymously by competitors–is commonplace, especially during years–like this one–which are considered to be a seller’s marketplace. That’s because competitors want the lead network to hold out for the highest possible increases. Another factor this year is that Fox’s longtime ad guru, Jon Nesvig, retired, and was replaced by Toby Byrne. And competitors love to second-guess a new leader.
But Byrne, who was formerly Fox’s SVP of Eastern Ad Sales, is far from a newbie to the upfront wars. He’s a 15-year veteran with the network, and is intimately familiar with Fox upfront strategy.
ABC has also done some upfront deals but the network was moving slowly because it did not want to do any business lower than 13 percent, sources said.
CBS, which had the most viewers per night this season among the broadcast networks, and is regarded as the network with the most stable schedule, was trying to do some business but was refusing to budge from its opening goal of about 14 percent, these sources added.
NBC was also talking with agencies, but the network sometimes moves along with the NBCU cable networks in negotiations, so that could slow the process.
The CW has traditionally done its upfront deals later in the process because its audience skews much different than the other broadcast networks, although last year it moved right within the Big Four and actually was done before CBS and ABC. Sources said the CW has not done any upfront deals yet.
Last year Fox also moved the market and was also the first network done with its business, when it was said to have averaged an overall 9 percent price hike for its prime time inventory.
This year the conventional wisdom by many buyers and sellers was that Fox was in the driver’s seat and could pretty much name its price.
But while a number of executives are deriding Fox for getting an average price increase they felt was too low, from Fox’s point of view the results are rosy.
Fox has a ton of ad dollar revenue committed for next season, and as one network sales exec conceded–echoing others, "No network does upfront deals that don’t make financial sense to their bottom line, particularly a network that was in first place in both the 18-49 and 18-34 viewer demos."
So it is believed that whatever deals Fox did, the percentages allowed the network to reach its bottom line financial goals.