Fox, CW set to finish upfront sales

ABC still taking a hard line with inventory, sources say

Amidst an unprecedented cloak of secrecy on both sides of the table in upfront negotiations, broadcast network sales executives and media agency buyers are finally making steady and rapid progress, with at least two broadcasters -- Fox and the CW -- poised to complete their upfront selling by the end of this week.

Sources familiar with negotiations say, however, that ABC is still taking a hard line and refusing to sell its prime-time inventory at negative cost-per-thousand increases
compared to last season.

NBC is also said to be quite far along, but unlike Fox and the CW, is negotiating many of its deals for NBC inventory in conjunction with its cable networks, which slows the process. CBS is also doing deals, according to sources, at low negative percentages, despite vows from executives at the top that the network would not sell at lower rates than last year.

Sources said the CW is doing deals at -2% to -3% for its prime-time inventory, while Fox is averaging prime-time CPMs at -1%. NBC, which did its first deal more than a month ago, is averaging prime-time CPM deals at -7%. While those numbers are averages, individual deals are being cut at higher or lower percentages, depending on categories and packages.

"The secrecy this year has been amazing and unprecedented," said one TV sales executive, who declined to speak for attribution.

Another network executive added, "Everyone, including us, is staying fairly mum with information in order to keep the entire process moving forward. In recent years, too much information got out about deals and then it became increasingly difficult to close down the remaining pieces of business."

That the CW could be completed with its upfront selling by the end of this week came as a surprise since the network is usually the last of the broadcast networks to complete its deals. But sources said that most media agencies got tired of ABC's firm line on pricing, and decided to bypass it and do its deals with the CW first.

Neither executives nor representatives at any of the broadcast networks would comment on the record.

While broadcast negotiations are quietly moving along, syndication budgets from media agencies are rolling in. The higher-rated off-network sitcoms, and traditionally popular daytime programming are landing significant chunks of those budgets.