The record sales of last year's upfront season are proving hard to beat for US broadcast-TV networks. They received $9.3 billion (£5.06bn; €7.62bn) from ad commitments in 2003, and sales look set to roughly equal that this year.

Networks such as Fox and NBC have bagged $1.6bn and $3bn respectively from their sales of ad time for new programming schedules.

Although demanding more money for ad time (Viacom's CBS and UPN units have raised prices by up to 10%), networks are increasingly faced with falling viewer numbers. And this worries advertisers who need convincing that they are paying for effective advertising.

It is no surprise that activity has been cautious. "No one is going to be stampeded into poor business decisions" insists Ian Beavis, svp of product planning, marketing and PR at Mitsubishi Motors North America.

Unlike some earlier years, advertisers retain the upper hand. Not only can they pull out of a deal if networks alter their programming schedule, this year they are able to sit tight and wait for networks' prices to drop.

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