By Brian Steinberg
News Corp.’s Fox network has already begun closing deals as part of its upfront negotiations, according to people familiar with the talks, a sign that this year’s TV-advertising market is more robust than it was in 2009 and is likely to be wrapped up in days or weeks rather than months.
Fox has been seeing high demand from automakers and movie studios, according to one media buyer. These advertisers want to secure strategically important ad inventory on the network before the bulk of buying takes place. Fox only broadcasts two hours of prime time each evening, unlike NBC, ABC and CBS. This buyer cautioned that the upfront market is still in its starting phase, and that there is plenty of business left to be written before the annual ad-haggling session is complete.
Fox is said to be selling ad inventory at high-single-digit percentage increases over last year’s cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, otherwise known as a CPM, a common measure in these sorts of negotiations. Buyers suggested that most networks will secure CPM increases in the mid- to high-single-digit percentage range. The broadcast networks typically sell 70% to 80% of their ad inventory as part of the upfront market, in which marketers commit to ad spending for the coming fall season.
Other networks are also moving along. CBS is in active negotiations with advertisers over inventory in a range of dayparts, according to one person familiar with the situation. And auto advertisers have been putting down money on football and other sports at CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Turner, according to ad-sales executives at those networks.
Financial analysts have projected a gain of 10% to 20%, if not more, for the 2010 upfront, and one buyer said current market activity seems to bear out that projection. That would mean a markedly stronger upfront than last year, when most networks saw their take decrease by at least 10% to 15%.
Buyers and analysts are less optimistic, however, that the networks will regain the strength of pre-recession years such as 2008. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox should net approximately $8.26 billion in prime-time advertising commitments, according to a recent projection from Barclays Capital analysts Anthony DiClemente and George Hawkey, up 20% from the $6.88 billion in commitments the analysts say the networks secured in 2009. But that total is still 6% to 7% below the $8.8 billion that Barclays estimates the broadcasters captured in 2008.
Higher upfront volume is likely to be driven by advertisers seeking to secure lower prices early, rather than paying a premium later on in the year for so-called scatter advertising, or ads that run closer to air date. Much of the money put down on scatter in the recently completed TV season will likely move into the upfront market as a result.
That would mean a calmer scatter market this fall and winter. In the 2009-2010 season, advertisers who held money tight during a tough economy found themselves paying as much as 20% to 30% more for scatter ad inventory as the nation’s finances improved. This year, those price increases will probably not be as sharp.#