Fox upfront advertising sales tumble; CW down slightly

Fox upfront advertising sales tumble; CW down slightly
Fox suffered a disappointing season because of lower ratings for its shows, including "American Idol." In April the show featured aspiring singers Sam Woolf, left, Jena Irene and Alex Preston. (Michael Becker / Associated Press)

Fox Broadcasting got roughed up during this year's upfront advertising sales period, which wrapped up this week.

The network, owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox media company, struggled to maintain its advertising base for the upcoming TV season.

During the industry's annual June sales auction, Fox accepted orders totaling roughly $1.6 billion for its prime-time commercial spots.

That represents a steep decline of nearly $200 million compared with Fox's 2013 upfront total. Last year, Fox's upfront ad sales approached $1.78 billion.

The annual auction is called the upfront because the networks take orders and negotiate pricing for their commercial time in advance or "upfront" of the new fall season.

Fox mustered rate increases of 2.5% to 3.5%, according to a person close to the negotiations who asked not to be identified.

In contrast, NBC wrangled rate increases of nearly 8%. However, Fox has long boasted some of the highest ad rates in network television because it offers advertisers younger audiences than the other major broadcasters.

Fox apparently was successful in maintaining its premium rates.

NBC, which finished last season in first place in the key advertising demographic, has been lobbying to raise its rates after a prolonged stay in the ratings cellar. NBC regained some ground during this year's ad market.

Fox's disappointing showing in the upfront market followed a disastrous season because of the ratings collapse of its onetime tentpole show, "American Idol." Fox's prime-time ratings for regularly scheduled shows were down about 20%.

Kevin Reilly, Fox's entertainment chairman, announced in May that he was leaving the network. Fox has yet to name Reilly's replacement.

The CW network -- a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. -- also struggled to maintain its share of the advertising pie. 

Last year, CW accepted orders totaling a little more than $400 million. This year, CW's sales came in slightly below that amount, according to a knowledgeable person.

The CW and Fox also sold less inventory than they did last year, contributing to their lower totals. Networks typically sell about three-quarters of their ad time during the upfront market.

The CW managed to raise its ad rates by 3% to 4% for next season.

The small network attracted new advertisers in the financial services, automotive and fast-food industries. Advertisers said they were cautiously optimistic about CW's new fall shows "The Flash" and "Jane the Virgin."

The CW has been trying to broaden the appeal of its shows beyond its traditional core audience of women ages 18 to 34.