TV Upfront ‘Best Ever’, Claim US Networks

23 May 2003

NBC, Fox and ABC have closed their books on what may be the best ever broadcast TV upfront – the annual ritual in which America’s big four major national networks horsetrade with agencies and advertisers over their primetime slots for the fall/winter season.

Word from the Manhattan auction mart is that dealmaking soared to a record level of $9.2 billion (€7.87bn; £5.63bn), up nearly fourteen percent on last year, itself a record at $8.1bn. Chortled ABC president of advertising sales and marketing Mike Shaw: “We are very pleased that advertisers are voting with their pocketbooks. It’s a strong affirmation of the network model.”

Alone among the big four, CBS has yet to draw a line under next season’s deals – not because of reluctance on the part of buyers, say insiders, more likely an indication of the pressure applied by owner Walt Disney to wring maximum revenues at the best possible prices.

And it’s not only the avalanche of dollars changing hands that points to a bull market. The speed at which they did so – books closing in under thirty-six candle-burning hours – is more reminiscent, of the goldrush 90s, say participants.

The sellers were seeking CPM (cost-per-thousand viewers) hikes upward of 20%; the buyers had in mind around half that figure. The two sides shook hands on deals ranging between 16% and 20%. Honor satisfied; ritual sanctified.

The main cable systems, however, had it less good, thus far disposing of between twenty to thirty percent of inventory. The haggling is expected to extend through next week with early indications suggesting price rises of between 5%-9%. Syndication bargaining has only just got under way.

Perhaps most significant, though, is the bellyflop of predictions – mainly propagated by media buyers – that that their ad dollars would be diverted to cable because of high broadcast network prices. Wise after the event, one media doyen commented: “Given the size of the market at $9.2 billion, I don't think [a significant shift in] money moved to cable.”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff