America’s TV Networks Celebrate Upfront Bonanza

07 June 2002

In the wake of Tuesday’s report that NBC had closed its upfront order book [WAMN: 04-Jun-02], comes news of flying champagne corks as the other networks celebrate the unloading of most of their available upfront primetime slots.

Rhapsodizes CBS president/ceo Leslie Moonves: “It reflects the overall belief in broadcast television. It is still the best game in town and the best bang for the buck.” According to Moonves, the network had vended 80% of its fall primetime slots, all of which had been snapped-up by eager buyers.

In dollar terms this equates to around $1.95 billion (€2.08bn; £1.34bn) in sales – a dramatic trumping of last year’s upfront auction when CBS harvested only $1.4bn

ABC claims $1.5bn in advance fall sales which, although below last year’s $1.7bn, is still ahead of expectations given the network’s poor ratings performance in 2001.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, another dire performer in the ratings stakes, managed to match its 2001 take of $1.3bn – rather better than anticipated given its thumbs-down from viewers. As with CBS, Fox unloaded over 80% cent of its offering, a marked improvement on last year’s percentages when both networks' sales languished in the middle 70s.

WB network, reeling from the loss of its kitsch-hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nevertheless managed a marginal gain in year-on-year viewing to claw $575m – around 20% more ad dollars than the $480 million it took during the same period last year.

UPN, the only major network still touting sales, is forecasting a take of $250 million, twenty-five percent up on last year’s $200m.

In aggregate, the six networks are expected to book around $8.2bn in commitments – a gain of $1.2bn on 2001. But in the daffy world of upfront, a commitment can be ‘flexible’ allowing marketers and agencies up to sixty days before the next broadcast quarter to cancel up to thirty percent of their slots.

Fox’s president for sales Jon Nesvig warns: “There may have been a little over-commitment. I think people were scrambling to put money down in a hurry.”

And it may also be that Cingular Wireless media director Charlie Payne was speaking for a raft of other advertisers when she admitted putting more money into the upfront market this year because scatter pricing – rates charged for later ad hoc purchases – was “at a pricing premium”.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff