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Rumors of Broadcast's Death Greatly Exaggerated

TV
TV

After years of moaning about the death of broadcast TV as viewers move online and to cable, the broadest business is looking pretty healthy.

For one thing, advertising is back — CBS CEO Les Moonves said this week that ad rates are up 30 percent from Upfront Ad sales rates.

Considering that this year's Upfront showed high single digit gains over last year, that's significant progress. Second, networks have managed to secure that all important second revenue stream-- retransmission fees from cable and satellite TV carriers.

And viewers are tuning in — the fall TV season is off to a strong start. NBC showed that its investment in expensive content is paying off — "The Event" is NBC's most successful series launch in 3 years. NBC has already sold the show in 200 international territories, so if the series survives, it's a gold mine. ABC had a huge night with "Dancing with the Stars" — averaging 21.3 million viewers. CBS had a promising start for "Hawaii Five-0" and its "Survivor" franchise is as strong as ever, with a huge season debut.

So far Fox is the network with the biggest problems: despite huge critical acclaim "Lone Star" debuted so poorly, there were rumors that it would be cancelled after just a few shows. After drawing just 4.1 million viewers the series' creator went on a campaign, blogging a desperate plea for viewers to tune in. "House" also kicked off lower than expected. And "American Idol's" new judges are raising some serious eyebrows about the sustainability of the series.

The networks know the stakes are high this season — consumers have more options than ever-- so they're pulling out all the stops to engage eyeballs. Disney's ABC is partnering with Nielsen on a first-of-its kind iPad app, which picks up to audio cues during the "My Generation" show to give synched trivia and polls. ABC has another app, called "Chatterbox," that aggregates and streams all social media updates about a show in real-time.

NBC says it adds 20 to 30 percent more online content each year. This season the "characters" from "The Event" are Tweeting and original videos revealing secrets from the show are posted weekly. Fox is hosting auditions for "Idol" on MySpace. And CBS has built-in social media support for "Bleep My Dad Says," which is based on a Twitter Feed.

Plus, this year's political ad boost is bigger than expected. The combination of competitive races and a Supreme Court decision ending certain spending restrictions adds up to a goldmine for local networks as well as cable channels and radio. SNL Kagan just reported that political advertising is expected to be 25 percent higher than the 2006 mid-term cycle.

(See my blog on political ad winners)

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com