The annual barn dance in which media agencies and network TV executives celebrate the time-honored rite of haggling over pre-season TV sales, is now in full swing and the omens are encouraging, the dancers report.

Demand for ad time this fall has been brisk – far stronger than expected. Even ABC and Fox, which have suffered a ratings-battering, are able to demand (and get) price increases, say media buyers. “It is robust out there,” says Peter Gardiner, a partner and chief media officer at Deutsch. “The market is clearly hitting the higher end of projections,” he enthused.

Investment bank soothsayers predict that the six major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB – will collect between them $7.15 billion (€7.68bn; £4.91bn) to $7.45 billion in upfront ad bookings, a year-on-year gain ranging between 2% to 6%, according to a recent report by Jessica Reif Cohen, a Merrill Lynch entrail-raker.

Senior network executives, however, were loathe to push their luck and declined to comment. But off the record and unattributed, the TV honchos say the market may surpass those estimates.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff