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TV networks log higher ad sales

Times Staff Writer

Broadcast television’s annual springtime sales bazaar drew to a close Friday with the five networks surpassing their estimates by ringing up a combined $9.3 billion in commitments for prime-time commercial spots for the coming TV season.

The so-called upfront ad market was surprisingly strong this year, with broadcasters increasing their take by about 5% compared with last year despite generally lower ratings. Networks were also swamped with orders for spots in national evening and morning newscasts.

“This upfront affirms the power of network television,” said Mike Pilot, president of ad sales for NBC Universal.

The broadcast market closed late Thursday when the CW, a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment, finished its sales. The network, which just ended its first TV season, increased its haul by about 3.5% to nearly $650 million in orders for prime-time ads.

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“In just our second upfront, we exceeded our revenue goals, adding over a dozen new advertisers with great strength in categories like wireless, retail and theatrical,” Bill Morningstar, CW’s executive vice president for sales, said Friday.

Fox Broadcasting was the market leader, increasing its revenue by nearly 6% to $1.9 billion for prime-time spots. With such hits as “American Idol” and “House,” News Corp.-owned Fox ended the season as No. 1 among viewers 18 to 49, the group advertisers pay more to reach.

Fox has fewer hours in prime time than the other Big Four because it programs 15 hours a week, while ABC, CBS and NBC each fills 22 hours a week. Fox turns over its 10 p.m. hour to local TV stations.

Sales for fourth-place NBC, owned by General Electric Co., were flat compared with last year, bringing in nearly $1.9 billion in commitments. NBC was still pleased because, after two punishing years in which it was forced to roll back rates, the network didn’t have to trim its prices again.

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Meanwhile, ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co., and CBS, the flagship of CBS Corp., each brought in more than $2.4 billion in commitments for the TV season that begins in September. Both networks were able to hike ad rates and increase revenue commitments by about 5%.

“Upfront sales seem to be heading toward 5% year-over-year growth,” Bank of America media analyst Jonathan Jacoby wrote in a report Friday. “Nothing to get too excited about.”

One reason for the lack of enthusiasm is that broadcasters are switching to a new Nielsen Media Research system that will measure the size of the audience for commercials.

Until now, networks sold a rating derived from the average audience over the course of a program. Because of the switch, and an awareness that fewer people watch ads, the networks this year revised downward their ratings guarantees.

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The market is called the upfront because networks sell about 80% of their prime-time inventory in advance of the TV season. With the broadcast networks finished, the cable TV sales season now ramps up.

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meg.james@latimes.com


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