The upfront ad-buying season for America’s cable-TV networks is drawing to a close – a month earlier than last year.

Major networks such as Turner Broadcasting and Universal Television concluded talks with media agencies two weeks ago, while smaller operators finished their deal-making late last week. Last year, in contrast, small cable firms were still hammering out sales in August.

Total takings are still unclear, but there is little doubt cable enjoyed a bumper upfront, with those in the know putting the year-on-year increase at between 18%–20%. As the 2002 market is estimated at $4.6 billion (€4.0bn; £2.8bn), such a leap would give a total upfront of between $5.3bn and $5.5bn.

Nevertheless, this is slightly below earlier forecasts of a 22% surge [WAMN: 29-May-03]. The deal-making got off to a flying start in May on the back of a record broadcast upfront, but cooled for two to three weeks as price negotiations began in earnest.

As a result, networks are not thought to have won price rises as phenomenal as they had hoped. “Pricing demands went from unpalatable to merely exorbitant, so there were some adjustments to be made,” declared one buyer unwilling to give his name. “But there is no way any of them should be disappointed when you consider that we live in a deflationary environment.”

Cost-per-thousand rises are said to have varied from 5% to 14% depending on the network.

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