NBC reports robust ad sales

Times Staff Writer

NBC on Thursday said, “Deal,” and the suitcase contained $1.9 billion.

The fourth-place network, home of the hit game show “Deal or No Deal,” said it racked up $1.9 billion in advance prime-time advertising sales for the fall season. The total surprised many people not only because of the network’s low ratings but also because it managed to sell the commercial time without making the traditional TV pilots to show Madison Avenue.

NBC is the first of the five broadcast networks to finish its sales in the “upfront” market, when the networks sell the bulk of their commercial time for the coming season. NBC executives described the sales as robust -- nearly $100 million above last year’s total -- despite an economic slowdown and ratings that fell about 10% in the just-completed season.


Only last month Wall Street and even some industry executives were bracing for lower sales. But the national TV advertising market could be shaping up to be stronger than expected.

“Going in, the economy was the wild card,” said one NBC executive who asked to remain anonymous because he was discussing financial information. “But advertisers’ television budgets seem to have held up.”

Most of the networks, including the struggling CW, were fetching ad rates 5% to 9% higher than last year. Although many media outlets are suffering from a slump, the networks continue to benefit from the risky supply-versus-demand calculations that advertisers must make in placing their long-term bets.

Last year advertisers who sat on the sidelines during the upfront market paid rates 30% or higher for time they bought later in the year. This year more advertisers are trying to get in early, driving up rates.

During the 2007 upfront market, the five broadcast networks said they collectively sold $9.3 billion in prime-time commercial spots.

A year ago, NBC sold more than $1.8 billion worth of prime-time commercials. This year the network sold 80% of its available inventory, about 4% more than in 2007. NBC said it wasn’t including the sale of spots during next year’s Super Bowl in its tabulation.

NBC appears to have benefited by getting a head start on its rivals by announcing its fall schedule in early April rather than the traditional May. NBC used the extra time to negotiate deals with advertisers who wanted to get their products prominently featured within the story lines of shows, a burgeoning area known as product integration.

For example, NBC struck a deal with General Motors Corp. to promote GM vehicles in the upcoming series “My Own Worst Enemy,” with Christian Slater. And Ford Motor Co. will play a role in NBC’s remake of the 1980s hit “Knight Rider.”

NBC also was lifted by “Sunday Night Football,” which commands higher ad rates because viewers prefer to watch games live rather than record them and fast-forward through the commercials.