So why are advertisers rushing to show commercials on the 4th place TV network? Beats me, because insiders tell me that, any day now, NBC will be crowing how it’s nearly completed sales for this year’s upfront. I’ve been slipped some latest numbers — $1.9 billion, up from last year (by about $100 million) in a down market. Everyone knows that, last year to avoid a huge humiliation, NBC kept back inventory for the later scatter market. So it’s indeed a surprise that the network was able to sell so much inventory in the early marketplace considering its lousy schedule and the worsening economy. The average CPM increase is 6%. These figures include football, but not the Olympics or Superbowl. For those, the Olympics are about 80% sold and “pacing right on track” and there’s supposed to be strong demand from advertisers for this year’s Superbowl. (Let’s hope the ads are better than the lame-ass ones last time…) Back to network numbers, I’m told that, generally, all dayparts (network, prime, latenight, etc.) are flat to up. Since the overall market is down about 3%-4% and NBC is up about 5%-6%, I understand that NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker is interpreting this as “a vote of confidence” in the network schedule and “real proof” that his decision is paying off to save money by forgoing a formal pilot season and full-frills upfront presentation and instead replacing it with a so-called “In Front stategy” whereby scripts and pitches were ordered straight to series for a new year-round schedule rounded out by cheap reality and game shows. So I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news to all you TV agents and showrunners and writers and actors and producers hoping this was just a strike-induced passing phase — but, for the forseeable future, a normal pilot season at NBC looks dead in the water. Of course, NBC’s fall schedule is expected to tank yet again. But that’s probably when NBC will start funding low-budget New Media projects as backdoor pilots to test ideas on the Internet before going to series, thus finding a cheap way around the new guild contracts. (Long sigh…) As to other networks, upfront ad sales are looking up 9%-10% for Fox, 8%-10% for ABC and 7%-8% for CBS. Meanwhile, I hear all NBC Universal properties expect to reach $4.1B-$4.2B (compared to $4B last year).
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