US Cable Firms Refuse to Budge Over Upfront Discounts

18 June 2002

The US cable industry’s upfront sales period – the annual ritual in which media buyers purchase ad time for the fall season – reached a standoff last week, as agencies and media owners failed to agree on cost-per-thousand prices.

Following successful upfronts for broadcast TV and syndication, in which prices were higher than expected, buyers are looking for discounts on cable deals. The cable companies, however, seek more than is on the table.

“Everybody is threatening and posturing,” complained Fox Cable Networks’ vp of ad sales, Bruce Lefkowitz, while one anonymous media buyer commented: “The cable networks know they can’t push the panic button because we won’t fall for it. We’re not in any hurry.”

Onlookers estimate that this upfront is around 25% complete. USA Networks – which offered 9%–12% discounts – and Lifetime have sold most of their time, while youth-targeted networks Comedy Central, E! and MTV have secured increases on last year’s prices.

However, higher prices are still being sought by Turner Entertainment Networks, Discovery Networks, A&E, FX and TNN. If the confrontation continues, smaller networks may benefit as adspend is diverted elsewhere.

Data sourced from: (USA); additional content by WARC staff