TV upfront market getting slow start; buyers ponder Fox shake-up

TV upfront market getting slow start; buyers ponder Fox shake-up
The TV upfront ad sales market is slow to start this year. During the annual ad auction, media buyers will make bets on new shows, including "Red Band Society" one of Fox's new programs. Pictured is the cast of the ensemble drama. (Alex Martinez / Fox)

Top network sales executives earlier this month predicted they would be striking upfront deals with advertisers before the end of May.

That hasn't happened.


"Things are a little slower than in years past," one veteran advertising buyer, Jason Maltby, an executive director of Mindshare USA, said Friday.

"There doesn't seem to be a rush to get things done -- which is not a bad thing because it allows advertisers to make more informed decisions," he said.

Some TV network executives now believe the upfront ad sales should heat up in the next week or two. Historically speaking, a June start is not particularly late.

Sure, the major TV networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- sold more than $8.7 billion in prime-time commercial spots in just four days in May 2003 -- a sales auction that quickly turned into a feeding frenzy.

But the 2009 market, during the U.S. financial crisis, represented the other extreme. In that year, upfront ad sales stretched from mid-June to early August as broadcast executives struggled to secure the prices they wanted.

This year doesn't appear to be as sluggish -- although industry watchers are curious to see whether broadcasters this year will lose significant market share to their cable brethren and digital video sites, such as YouTube and Hulu.

A new wrinkle was added to the upfront process on Thursday when Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly said he was exiting the network.

Reilly's announcement came less than three weeks after he took the stage in New York to unveil Fox's new prime-time schedule. The timing of Reilly's announcement struck some advertisers as odd.

An unintended consequence could be a perception among advertisers that Fox's new fall schedule wasn't that strong.

Reilly, in an interview Thursday, dismissed that notion.

Several of the new shows have promise, Reilly said, and could help to turn around Fox's fortunes in the ratings.

There were some potential "bright spots" in Fox's new lineup, Maltby said.

"They had some good stuff," added Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for Horizon Media. "It looks like Fox had an interesting development season."

Television's annual advertising sales auction is called the upfront market because the networks sell about two-thirds of their commercial time for the coming year in advance, or "upfront," of the TV season.


Wall Street analysts have predicted that broadcast networks should sell $11 billion in commercial time during this year's upfront market, including about $8.5 billion for prime-time shows.