Less drama, more money in TV dealmaking season

Fri May 7, 2010 3:28pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Television networks could bring home at least $1 billion in extra advertising sales for the upcoming prime-time TV season, a big improvement after last year's dismal "upfront market."

Sales start in earnest later this month after ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox introduce their 2010-2011 TV schedules, and could wrap up in a matter of weeks, possibly by early July, according to advertising and broadcast executives.

At this time last year, advertisers and broadcasters were heading into a protracted, contentious and frustrating upfront market. In the end, advertisers bought about 15 percent less commercial time, and successfully bargained for price cuts for the first time in eight years.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox should win back most of that money this time around, with major categories like auto, retail and financial services in far better health. Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente predicted that ad dollars would be up about 20 percent to $8.26 billion for the four biggest broadcast networks.

Advertising and TV executives, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations, said preliminary meetings between the two sides had a far different tone than last year.

"Things couldn't be more different than they were a year ago," said Jo Ann Ross, head of network sales at CBS.

"Right now, all indications are good. We're having a lot of good meetings with clients," she said. "The number of meetings is about the same, but the tenor and tone is different. We're finding a lot of enthusiasm on the other side of the desk -- there isn't that 'The sky is falling' feeling."

Even media buyers, who negotiate for ad time on behalf of clients like Ford Motor Co, AT&T Inc or Microsoft Corp, are willing to talk higher prices this year.   Continued...