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Cable gets upfront gains

The children's TV upfront advertising market passed in a 10-day flurry of negotiations last month. As the dust settled after the market wrapped at 4 a.m. on Thursday, February 6 marketers had committed an estimated US$750 million in advertising time for...
March 1, 1997

The children’s TV upfront advertising market passed in a 10-day flurry of negotiations last month. As the dust settled after the market wrapped at 4 a.m. on Thursday, February 6 marketers had committed an estimated US$750 million in advertising time for the 1997-98 TV season, roughly a five-percent increase from the year before.

The big trend, as expected, was a tidal shift of perhaps US$50 million from broadcast to cable suppliers of kids shows, due to ratings and audience delivery gains at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Disney’s syndicated kids block, CBS’s truncated lineup and smaller syndicated players were the clear losers in terms of money.

Though the overall market’s dollar gains were modest and the available number of kids rating points for sale was more or less flat, advertisers paid increases in cost per thousand (CPM) as increasingly scarce broadcast rating points became more valuable. Broadcast leader Fox Children’s Network, for instance, saw its ratings fall about 20 percent and its CPM rise a like amount. Thus, Fox was able to keep its dollars steady at US$170 million or so.

Nick opened the market, offering advertisers a smorgasbord of options. The cable channel had sold two-thirds of the coming season’s inventory in long-term deals a year ago, so anyone who wanted to add more money for the fall could do so. As well, advertisers were encouraged to commit for the 1998-99 season, and to sign deals for TV Land, the recently launched Nick at Nite spin-off channel aimed at adults.

Cartoon Network, which doubled its subscriber base to 40 million households in the last 18 months, became a much bigger ad player and wrote perhaps US$60 million worth of business.

The broadcast portion of the market began shortly after cable concluded, when Fox and WB presented their new schedules to advertisers. WB successfully harvested enough commitments to fill its new weekday afternoon block. The network booked in excess of US$60 million, as buyers expressed confidence in its lineup of Warner cartoons, both old (Looney Tunes) and new (Animaniacs).

WB effectively took money away from Disney, which is losing most of its afternoon time periods and a half-hour from its daily two-hour block. However, Disney’s top-quality animation helped keep its CPM up.

CBS with its FCC-friendly lineup did not fare as well with advertisers, who were curious, nonetheless, to see a new educational show from Weird Al Yankovic.

Advertisers and sellers all expressed relief when the upfront market was finished. Considering the current season’s dismal ratings and unwanted cash rebates, though, all sides are hoping that the money just committed will remain in place.

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