The Upfronts: Networks Settle for Less

Despite some optimistic analyst predictions, the five-network haul is likely to come in below last year's take.

Media buyers and TV sales teams have closed the book on the fist-pounding all-nighters known as upfronts -- when networks sell the bulk of their airtime for the upcoming season and buyers lock in advantageous pricing. Despite some optimistic analyst predictions at the outset, the five-network upfront haul is likely to come in at $8.8 billion to $9.1 billion, below last year's $9.2 billion take. Once again, CBS, with its stable schedule of highly rated comedies and dramas, has booked the most in upfront commitments. But with buyers balking at double-digit CPM (cost per thousand viewers) increases and networks holding back more inventory for the scatter market -- when ads are purchased closer to air and at higher prices -- most networks are flat year-over-year. CBS, The CW and ABC, which is down slightly from 2011, held back more inventory than last year. Fox sold about the same amount, close to 80 percent. And NBC realized small gains thanks to the ratings success of The Voice and Sunday Night Football, America's top-rated broadcast. SNF 30-second spots were said to be selling for $550,000, up from about $512,000 last season. Another fly in the upfront ointment this season was GM, which asked for steep 20 percent price rollbacks. In response, most networks refused to negotiate with the automaker until after they had already secured most of their upfront commitments. And it's still not clear whether GM, which spent $1.1 billion on TV advertising in 2011, actually closed any significant deals with the Big Four networks.

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