Viacom nears end of upfront ad sales

Cable networks expect to wrap up business this week

NEW YORK -- Cable networks giant MTV Networks is nearly done with its upfront advertising sales and Turner Broadcasting System is well along in the process.

Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks unit is about 75% done with its upfront sales and expects to wrap them up this week, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman said Monday.

He told the Deutsche Bank Securities Media and Telecom Conference that the company is selling a bigger percentage of its ad inventory in the upfront this year compared to last, but he declined to provide specific percentage guidance.

Upfront pricing is also up for Viacom and "pretty robust," according to Dauman.

"We're feeling very good about it," he said about the upfront overall. "It looks very strong."

Dauman cited film studios, wireless companies and retailers as particularly strong buyers of upfront advertising. "Major retailers are moving ad dollars to younger demos," the exec told the investor conference.

Dauman also signaled some positive upfront trends among auto advertisers after recently lowering second-quarter cable revenue guidance because of lower auto momentum. Some car companies seem to be stepping up their ad spend due to the weakness of others, Dauman said.

He also told investors that Viacom is looking to diversify its ad base given weakness in some categories. For example, broadening the appeal of networks by adding original programming allows them to gain younger viewers and reach new advertisers, he explained.

Turner has moved more slowly in an attempt to ensure high ad rate increases, with observers saying the TW arm has been targeting double-digit gains.

TW president and CEO Jeffrey Bewkes on Monday didn't comment on this beyond predicting price and volume increases "at the high end of all cable networks."

Beyond that, he also talked up his cable network arm's upfront performance. "We're right in the middle of the upfront right now," he told the investor conference though. "We feel very good about it."

He also predicted that strong upfront business will carry through to the scatter market as well.