The annual US TV hypefest known as the 'upfronts' has rolled into town again.

Network executives have been hosting lavish shindigs to persuade media buyers to commit their dollars to the "next big thing" come the Fall.

Some analysts believe this way of betting on TV futures - where most of what is spouted at this stage is at best talked-up and at worst completely fabricated - has passed its sell-by date and has no place in an increasingly fragmented media market.

Advertisers are being seduced by the cheaper charms of the internet, as well as the rising numbers of consumers signing up to digital TV and radio.

Although the networks still provide major audiences, especially on hit primetime shows, their problems lie in stealing a march on each other in an indistinct market [WAMN: 19-May-05].

Says Tim Spengler, evp at media agency Initiative: "Going into this upfront, for virtually all clients, there are no must-buys." And he forecasts: "The ratings race twelve months from now will be similar to today."

Despite this clarity of thinking by media buyers, the networks are still stirring a froth of promise for the coming season.

Currently ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Company, is reported by media buyers to be notching early success as it rebounds from several years of ratings shame. Its hugely popular scifi survival drama series Lost has spawned a host of me-too shows from competitors.

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