The Upfronts Upshot For the Networks

It's official: all of the networks have completed their broadcast Upfront ad sales. NBC, which was the last to finish, secured roughly 7 percent rate increases over last year. That's less than the rest of the networks: CBS, leading the pack, nailed down rate increases near 10 percent, while ABC and Fox increased their ad rates by some eight to nine percent.


All the networks sold a far larger percentage of their ad inventory than they did last year. NBC's total primetime dollar volume is up between 15 and 20 percent, this year it sold near 80 percent of its primetime ad inventory.

With prices in the "scatter market" (last minute ad sales) up 20 to 30 percent over last year, marketers are shifting their money from those last minute ad sales into Upfront ad commitments.

This is a good thing for networks—t's easier for planning purposes to have a better sense of their full-year revenues.

NBC cable channels, USA, SciFi, Oxygen and Bravo, were the first cable group to finish upfront sales. The company sold nearly 20 percent more volume than last year with price increases in the high single digits. All in, including some pieces that haven't yet finished selling, like Telemundo, syndicated shows and digital ads, NBC's total portfolio should bring in about $4 billion.

Advertisers have gradually shifted ad dollars into what they call 'premium' cable channels like USA, which compete for the same viewers as broadcast networks and can on occasion score higher ratings. While this trend is continuing, we are not seeing a spike in cable revenue.

The fact that broadcast networks (and NBC in particular) are investing heavily in expensive content is appealing to advertisers. The networks have introduced 38 new shows, and 36 of those are scripted. Giving low-cost reality shows the back seat tells marketers that networks expect results to justify the investment in comedies and dramas.

NBC dropped the hint that Jay Leno's return to late night is having the desired effect on ad revenue. Mike Pilot, president of sales and marketing for NBC Universal said in a statement that the company saw "market leading growth for our market leading properties, including Cable Entertainment, NBC News, and Late Night programming."

The days of relying on low-cost content in primetime are over. Now the networks are investing in the content, knowing that viewers will flee to cable if they don't. Every new show could be a "Lost" or a "Friends." And there's no way of knowing for sure until the shows launch in September.

Questions? Comments?