America's main TV networks have seen an overall slide in this year's upfront airtime sales. The annual ritual, where advertisers commit to buying advertising time for the fall season, is expected to total $8.9 billion (€6.97bn; £4.82bn) in sales, a slip of 3.4% from 2005.

There is less pressure for advertisers to make dollar commitments as previously free-spending pharmaceutical or technology companies are no longer grabbing air time to introduce products.

John Moore, group media director of MediaHub notes that "the competitive landscape is much, much different" from previous years.

While Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, says the travel and automotive sectors are struggling, with the consequence that "one of the first things they cut is marketing".

The increasing fragmentation of the media and the questions posed by ad-skipping digital video recorders have also served to weaken the networks' appeal to advertisers.

The average US home received 96 channels in 2005, up 57% from 2000, according to Nielsen Media Research. And 16% of homes are expected to have DVRs by the end of this year.

The ABC network's efforts to charge airtime prices based on the number of viewers who watch a show live plus those who watch on DVRs up to a week later were soundly rebuffed by media buyers [WAMN: 07-Jun-06].

Data sourced from USA; additional content by WARC staff