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ABC Closes Upfront

ABC, riding high with hits such as Lost and Grey's Anatomy, wrapped up its upfront ad sales business on Wednesday afternoon with $2.3 billion in advance sales, pushing the five-network primetime total to $9.05 billion, slightly ahead of recent expectations but still off from last season.

In recent weeks, analysts and ad sales executives had predicted the total might fall as low as $8.7 billion from last year's $9.1 billion market and down from the $9.3 billion networks raked in for the 2004-05 season.

Rallies at ABC and Fox helped prop up this season's market. ABC secured 3% to 4% CPM (cost per thousand viewers) increases and total business was up $200 million over last year. The network sold out between 75% and 80% of its inventory, in line with its competitors, according to network insiders.

ABC's strong finish follows a drawn out selling season that stretched over six weeks. Fox was the first to finish business early last week, writing $1.8 billion in advance sales and secured 2%-3% increases on CPMs.

CBS finished with the highest volume, $2.4 billion, but its business was flat with last year and the network eked out low single digit CPM increases.

NBC also finished even with its 2005-06 tally at $1.9 billion. The network, which has struggled in recent seasons, had to slash CPMs about 5% and increase volume to keep its business up. NBC's anticipated Sunday Night Football accounted for about $200 million in upfront sales.

Similarly, ABC's upfront take includes its upcoming new sports franchises, Saturday night college football and NASCAR. When the network had Monday Night Football, however, it did not include those sales figures in its upfront take.

The CW, formed by the shutdowns of The WB and UPN, took in about $650 million in upfront commitments for its inaugural season.

Outside the five-network tally, Fox's new MyNetworkTV is still writing its upfront ad deals. So far, MNT has $50 million in upfront deals, but the service has less inventory than the other broadcast networks to sell because it will only have two hours of prime time and is turning more ad time over to affiliates.