Cable Waits for Ad Boom

The expected rush of actual basic-cable upfront business did not materialize last week, as most activity continued to center around networks registering their budgets — and buyers trying to drive down costs per thousand (CPMs).

In the wake of the robust broadcast primetime upfront — and strong sales in other dayparts —Jack Myers Report
is among the industry observers still projecting that the cable upfront could generate more than $4.5 billion in sales, up from $4 billion a year ago.

Last week, Lifetime Television was "about 80 percent where we want to be" in terms of inventory accounted for in the cable upfront, said executive vice president of ad sales Lynn Picard, who characterized the network's pace as "pretty busy."

Asked about a published report that Lifetime's business was sold at flat to negative costs per thousand, Picard said, "Our CPMs run the gamut, since every deal is different."

The automotive and theatrical-movie categories — whose hefty budget increases fueled the broadcasters' upfront bonanza — are also among the categories contributing to Lifetime's upfront business.

Industry sources said general-entertainment networks like USA Network and Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation seemed to face the toughest negotiations with ad-agency buyers.

Many cable-network executives were still complaining that USA's decision to accept negative-CPM upfront deals two weeks ago has stunted cable's momentum.

But Turner Entertainment Group president of sales and marketing Mark Lazarus begged to differ. "We continue to experience a surge in volume, contrary to most forecasts," he said.

As for the negative press on general-entertainment networks, he said, "I would characterize that as just talk. Everyone's posturing."

Turner should post CPM increases "from the low- to mid-single digits," he said.

Elsewhere, relative newcomers to cable's upfront — like Hallmark Channel, American Movie Classics and WE: Women's Entertainment — are anticipating a strong marketplace.

Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp. president of national network ad sales Arlene Manos said RASCO had registered about 70 percent of its business. The automotive category is "very healthy," she said, and financial and packaged-goods business also looks strong.

MuchMusic USA closed its first upfront transaction on Thursday "at healthy increases," and WE and other RASCO networks are close to signing deals.

Manos wouldn't talk price specifics, but said, "We definitely will not be lowering CPMs."

Hallmark Channel has already "done a couple of deals" and has registered 80 percent of its business, according to executive vice president of ad sales Bill Abbott.

"We're looking to double our sales," he said.