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Fox Cable Sales Chief: Upfront Will Top $9B

Fox Cable’s top advertising sales executive predicts that the cable upfront will top $9 billion this year, exceeding last year’s record $8 billion.

Speaking before FX’s upfront bowling party for media buyers in New York Tuesday night, Lou LaTorre, president for ad sales at Fox Cable Networks Group, said he expected FX to do better than the market, as it has in recent years. For FX, he expected to get price increases of 15% on a cost-per-thousand viewers basis. The bullish talk signals that buyers will not be satisfied with a gentlemen’s agreement to limit price increases to single digits.

LaTorre said advertisers will rush to pour money into this year’s upfront because those that waited to buy in scatter found prices 40% higher than last year’s upfront levels. “They got destroyed,” he said. “That’s going to be driving it.” If cable hits $9 billion, it is likely to exceed broadcast upfront sales.

Spending in the upfront gives advertisers price protection and options to cancel should oil prices or the crisis in Japan derail the economy. But LaTorre doesn’t expect that to happen. “If consumers continue to spend, there’s no reason to cut advertising,” he said.

FX will be making the rounds of advertisers and agencies with its upfront presentation, which carries the slogan “Expect More”.

So far this year, FX has posted big increases in ratings, gaining ground on the general entertainment cable networks media buyers are most likely to turn to for ads that cost less than broadcast, but reach a comparable number of viewers. In 2009, when the upfront was down 13% overall, FX beat the market with a mere 2% decline. Last year, when the market was up about 19%, FX grew upfront sales by 42%.

FX President John Landgraf outlined his plans to have 11 original series on the network.

“We’re off to our best start ever in prime, up more than 20%,” with record viewership in viewers, adults 18 to 49 and all male demos, Landgraf said.

With five original dramas and six original comedies, “I think that approaches the maximum, sustainable level of scripted programming for any basic cable network, but it’s a level I believe we can manage with great success.”

Landgraf says he hopes to launch three new dramas this year. In the fall,  the likely drama launch is American Horror Story, which recently signed Connie Britton as a star. Another drama will launch in the first quarter with a third following next summer. One pilot,  Outlaw Country, with John Hawkes and Mary Steenburgen, recently completed initial production. Another, Powers, a cop show, begins production soon.

FX’s ratings this year have been driven by the off-network show Two and a Half Men and a package of big box office theatrical movies.

Some of those films are family films, including Shrek Forever After, Alvin and the Chipmunks and How to Train Your Dragon, which helped the network attract 77 new advertisers last year, said Brue Lefkowitz, senior VP of ad sales for Fox Cable Networks.

Lefkowitz added that FX plans to make events of its biggest films-including Avatar, Star Trek and Twilight-and create a Premiere Ticket package that will be sold to a limited number of advertisers with category exclusivity.

FX will also be adding sports this fall, with a slate of college football games from the Big 12, Pac-10 and Conference USA.

Speaking of sports, a good time was had by all on the bowling lanes. Ron Perlman of Sons of Anarchy bowled a strike on his first through, and LaTorre opened with two strikes. LaTorre’s team of high powered media buyers won prizes for having highest average score of the night.