ABC has wrapped up the bulk of its upfront advertising sales for the upcoming television season, holding back some commercial time to sell throughout the year.
After more than two months of negotiations with the various ad agencies, the Walt Disney Co.-owned broadcast network on Thursday was putting the finishing touches on its final deals, according to a person close to the negotiations.
ABC became the last of the Big Four broadcast networks to end the haggling with ad buyers -- but not because of a lack of interest in ABC's slate, which includes "Modern Family," "Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Bachelor."
Instead, ABC Advertising Sales President Geri Wang decided early on to hold firm on the rate increases that ABC was demanding: 7% to 8% higher than last year's rates. She refused to sell prime-time spots at lower prices, and that meant some deals didn't get done.
Wang's strategy means that ABC will have more commercial time to sell throughout the year than is customary in the TV industry. Typically, broadcast networks sell at least 80% of their prime-time commercial inventory in the so-called upfront market, which occurs in advance of the start of the fall season.
Advertisers like to buy commercial spots during the upfront market because they receive ratings guarantees. Then, if a show falls short of the guaranteed audience level, the network will compensate advertisers by providing them free time in other shows.
Commercials that are sold throughout the season in the spot or "scatter" market do not typically come with ratings guarantees. Thus, buying time outside the upfront market is riskier for advertisers.
An ABC executive declined to comment Thursday on the network's dollar volume or sellout rate in the upfront.
Some reports estimate ABC's sales at $2.3 billion in prime-time ads -- less than last year's upfront total of about $2.4 billion. Another well-placed advertising source, however, said that ABC's total this year was closer to $2 billion.
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger is expected to provide an assessment of ABC's upfront sales next week when Disney reports its earnings.
Once again, No. 1-ranked CBS was the market leader.
CBS, which accepted slightly lower increases than it had initially planned, collected more than $2.5 billion in total dollar commitments.
NBC this week finished its sales process, garnering nearly $2.1 billion in commitments. It marked the first time in eight years that the peacock cracked the $2-billion mark during an upfront market.
Fox, which programs 15 hours a week in prime-time, seven hours a week fewer than ABC, CBS and NBC, collected nearly $1.8 billion during its sales process.
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