NEW YORK: The US economic downturn, a slide in audience ratings and the recent screenwriters' strike have combined to lower expectations for this week's 'upfront' salesfest on the nation's TV networks.

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen believes the numbers could be down by as much as 14% at this year's event, where the networks preview their upcoming new season shows to advertisers and marketers.

In contrast to previous all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas, this year's presentations are likely to be scaled down – a reflection of the economic reality in the US.

Reif Cohen estimates that even in a best case scenario the networks' primetime ad commitments are likely to be down 2% on last year, at $8.79 billion (€5.58bn; £4.49bn).

She projects the Fox network up 2% to $1.85bn, but the other major names will fare less well: CBS down 3% to $2.2bn; ABC falling 2% to $2.35bn; NBC slipping 1% to $1.78bn; and new-kid-on-the-block CW's total expected to decline 15% to $560 million.

Reif Cohen says this year's situation is similar to the bear markets of 1991 and 2001, when prices were flat, ratings were down and networks sold 5% less of their inventory during the upfronts.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff