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Upfronts Wrap: $9.2 Billion for the Big 5 Networks

Broadcast TV ad sales spike 4.5 percent, with ABC reporting $2.4B in sales; NBC nets $1.7B; CBS $2.6; syndication also closes with $2.3B

Broadcast TV's big selling season, the upfront, ended with the Big Five English-language broadcast networks moving $9.2 billion in commercial time.

That's less than the projected $9.5 billion they were expected to net, but about 8 percent more than the $8.5 billion they took in last year.

While none of the networks would comment on ad revenue taken in, TheWrap learned through individuals familiar with the negotiations that ABC took in $2.4 billion in primetime ad dollars, CBS took in $2.6 billion, and NBC sold $1.7 billion.

Adding in Fox's $2.1 billion upfront take and The CW's $420 million — negotiations that culminated earlier — the broadcast primetime upfront total this year is about $9.2 billion.

The broadcast syndication market also wrapped Thursday, with companies including Disney/ABC Domestic Television Distribution, CBS Television Distribution, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, Twentieth Television, Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution and Sony Pictures Television, among others, selling a combined upfront total of $2.3 billion.

ABC sold its primetime ad commercial inventory at cost per thousand increases averaging between 10-11 percent, while CBS sold its primetime inventory at prices between 13-14 percent, individuals close to the negotiations told TheWrap.

NBC averaged price increases in the 9 percent range for its primetime inventory. Both ABC and CBS sold about the same levels of ad commercial inventory as they did last year, between 80-85 percent. NBC also sold the same level of inventory, just under 80 percent.

While NBC's total is about $100 million more than last year's upfront in primetime, a notable achievement given the network didn't have 17 nights of higher priced Olympics ad sales, as it did in 2010.

Despite heavy demand, broadcasters seemed to hold back inventory, choosing once again to assume that the scatter market during the season will bring even higher prices than the upfront.

While the media agencies paid CPM increases that were lower than what the networks were originally expecting, the networks capitulated, choosing once again to try and reap more rewards in scatter.

The ABC total does not include ad sales for its fall prime-time telecasts of Saturday Night College Football, which is sold by the sister sports network ESPN sales team.

The CBS total does not include ad sales for its March primetime telecasts of the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament.

Syndication Moves Quickly

As a testimony to the strong marketplace, syndicators completed all of their ad selling simultaneously with the broadcasters, which is not usually the case.

In most years, syndication is saved by many of the media agencies until after they complete their broadcast buys.

The syndication market took in about $200 million more than last year, jumping about 10 percent overall from $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion.

And that increase was even more impressive after the departure of the "Oprah Winfrey Show," a huge money-maker for CBS Domestic Television.

While CBS Domestic would not comment on its upfront sales, sources familiar with the situation said the syndicator was able to recoup a good portion of its lost Oprah revenue by selling more of its other top rated shows, like "Judge Judy," "Dr. Phil" and "Entertainment Tonight."

CBS Domestic also sold about 80 percent of its available commercial inventory, more than last year, sources familiar with their negotiations told TheWrap.

Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution, according to sources in the marketplace, did strong ad sales for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Entertainment Tonight," as well as for top rated off-network sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory."

The later show was offered in syndication for the first time this coming season.

Twentieth Television had strong interest in off-network shows "How I Met Your Mother" and "Family Guy," as well as for "The Wendy Williams Show" which it sells for Debmar-Mercury, sources told TheWrap.

Sources said Sony Pictures Television had strong advertiser interest in its two talk shows "The Dr. Oz Show" and "The Nate Berkus Show."

There was not a lot of new programming being offered in syndication for the coming season, but in addition to "The Big Bang Theory," other shows that reported sold well were comedy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (Twentieth), "Dr. Drew's Lifesavers" and the Anderson Cooper talk show, "Anderson" (WBDTD), and NBCU's "Law & Order."

Disney/ABC did strong sales for "Live! With Regis and Kelly" and "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire," and media buyers said the syndicator charged a premium for Regis Philbin's final appearance on "Live! With Regis and Kelly," which will be sometime in November.

Disney/ABC was getting close to broadcast network prime-time prices for that one show, individuals told TheWrap.

In syndication, shows are usually put into tiers by media buyers and the syndication sellers — lower, medium and high.

In this upfront, the most popular and higher rated shows got cost per thousand price increases of 10-11 percent; the mid-tier shows got increases of 8 percent, while the lower tier shows got 5 percent price increases.

There was unusually strong interest in syndication this year by retailers and also hefty increases in buying by automotive advertisers.

With broadcast and syndication done, media buyers will now turn their attention in earnest to buying cable, where price increases in some instances will rival broadcast prime time.

There are dozens and dozens of cable networks to buy, but media agencies are hoping to have everything wrapped up by the July 4 weekend, if not before.