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TV networks wrap upfront ad sales; NBCUniversal nabs $6 billion

NBCUniversal upfront ad sales of $6 billion represents 11% increase compared with 2013

NBCUniversal grabbed a bigger slice of the TV advertising pie during this year's industry-wide upfront ad sales market.

The annual TV advertising sales auction appeared to be winding down on Tuesday with its share of losers and winners.

NBCUniversal reached the winner's circle. The Comcast-owned media company wrote orders for $6 billion in commercial time for its broadcast network NBC, cable TV channels including USA Network and Bravo, and digital platforms, according to people close to the process who asked not to be identified.

The company, unlike its competitors, bundles its advertising inventory for its broadcast and cable networks.

NBCUniversal's total marks an 11% increase over last year's $5.4-billion total during the June sales bazaar. The market is called the upfront because TV networks sell more than three-quarters of their ad time in advance, or "upfront," of the upcoming TV season.

The improved standing of the NBC broadcast network helped rev up sales. NBC reversed its nearly decade-long ratings slide to win the 2013-14 prime-time season among viewers 18 to 49. 

It was the first time in a decade that NBC came out on top, helped by such hits as "The Blacklist" and "The Voice." NBC was up 17% among the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers pay a premium to reach.

During this month's sales, NBC accepted commitments for $2.52 billion in prime-time commercial time for the upcoming season, a 12% increase compared with last year's upfront total of about $2.25 billion. 

Both figures include sales for NBC's popular "Sunday Night Football," but not the Super Bowl, which NBC will broadcast in 2015. Super Bowl ad sales typically are sold separately.

“We are very pleased to have led the market in both rate of change and volume growth this upfront," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said Tuesday in a statement. "Through significant investments in our programming, the turnaround at NBC and our strategy to approach the market as one portfolio, we are confident that we are well positioned as leaders moving forward.”

Burke said the company made "tremendous progress" in closing the gap between the lower ad rates for NBC's commercial time, and the higher rates charged by CBS, Fox and ABC for their spots.

NBC managed to secure rate increases of about 8%, which appears to be the largest rate increase of any broadcaster.

CBS, which finished the season in first place in total viewers, also performed well. The CBS network -- which in recent years has maintained the highest ad rates -- finished its upfront ad sales last week. CBS commanded rate hikes of nearly 7%, according to a person with knowledge of the sales.

Wall Street analysts have been expecting CBS' overall total to be down from its roughly $2.6-billion haul last year because CBS was not selling time for its new Thursday night NFL football package as part of its upfront sales. 

“We are very confident that CBS has once again achieved the highest pricing and most total dollars in the upfront marketplace," CBS said in a statement. The network also said it had persuaded some advertisers to pay for more viewers who digitally record a show and watch it within seven days of its TV airing.

ABC sales executives also wrapped up their sales last week. The network, owned by the Walt Disney Co., garnered rate increases of about 4% to 5%.

Fox Broadcasting on Tuesday was still hawking some its remaining spots for next season. The network, owned by 21st Century Fox, suffered a disappointing season, with ratings down nearly 20% for its regularly scheduled shows.

Fox was fetching rate increases of about 2.5% to 4%, according to a person close to the negotiations.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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