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Broadcast Networks Ad Take Down 15%


Although the big TV networks suffered a sizable drop in ad sales for the new fall season, media executives are already talking up their prospects for recouping their money later in the year.

The broadcast networks all acknowledge they sold less advance ad time for the upcoming season. The so-called upfront market -- when advertisers buy the bulk of primetime spots -- is drawing to a close after protracted negotiations.

While the broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW -- are staying mum about their individual takes, ad buyers and analysts estimate their combined haul is down around 15 percent, compared with the $9.2 billion they brought in last year.

Moreover, the broadcast networks all made deals at lower rates than they charged last season. The tough economy put ad buyers in the driver's seat and allowed them to push down prices for the first time in eight years.

While ABC, CBS and Fox lowered rates between 3 percent and 4 percent for the upcoming season, NBC, which ranks fourth place in the network race, slashed its prices by as much as 7 percent.

Despite the sorriest TV ad-sales season in years, broadcast executives are putting a positive spin on the situation, predicting an uptick in ad spending later this year.

Indeed, the broadcast chiefs said they withheld some ad inventory from the upfronts to sell later in the year. It's a gamble that the "scatter" market -- when advertisers can purchase time closer to the actual air date instead of months in advance -- will take off along with the rest of the economy.

For instance, CBS has sold 60 percent of its ad time, compared with 75 percent last year. That leaves CBS vulnerable if the ad slump persists, along with NBC, which has sold 70 percent compared with 80 percent last year. Fox and ABC also said they held back more time but didn't provide ballpark figures.

Media executives said they see the situation improving in the scatter market already. On Thursday, CBS Chief Les Moonves said scatter prices have risen in the third quarter.

While there are glimmers of hope in the economy, including the latest unemployment numbers, the ad market usually takes longer to recover than the broader economy.

"We're not growing but we're back from the bottom and things are improving," said Gary Carr, director of national broadcast for TargetCast tcm, a media-buying firm in New York. "Whether that translates into a lot of money getting spent later on is the question."



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