The race for the finish line of the US upfront airtime sales is within sight with CBS looking the likely winner for the second year running.

The network is set to pass the winning post with $2.4 billion (€1.91bn; £1.32bn) in advertising commitments for the fall season, just under the $2.5bn notched in 2005.

Runner-up is expected to be ABC, with around $2.2bn. NBC has logged $1.9bn and NewsCorp-controlled Fox TV has taken $1.8bn. The new CW network - the result of a merger early this year between UPN and WB [WAMN: 26-Jan-06] - has taken $650 million.

CPM (cost-per-thousand) increases, however, were smaller than last year when ABC won rate hikes of between 4%-6%. NBC this year accepted rate rollbacks of between 5%-6%; while CBS commanded rates similar to last year, with CPM increases of up to 2%.

But some buyers are skeptical. Says one anonymous commentator: "I don't trust the numbers any more. Any inflation was modest at best. Last year every single network reported the money was up; the only one who truly wrote more money was ABC ... This year the money is down a handful of percentage points."

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