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Moonves Vows Double-Digit Upfront Hikes

For months, ad agencies have been threatening to shift a big chunk of money from the broadcast networks to cable if the networks try to impose double-digit price increases for TV time next season.

But CBS isn't blinking. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves says the network will get just that--double-digit rate hikes in the 2004 upfront market, which will kick off after the unveiling of the new network schedules in late May.

If buyers resist double-digit rate hikes, CBS will be content to sell less inventory upfront and take even bigger increases in the scatter market, he says. But he's also confident that cable won't gain at CBS's expense because of the strength and stability across the Tiffany network's prime time schedule.

Moonves says he also expects "a lot of money to shift to CBS from NBC," especially given the fade-out of Friends on Thursday night at the end of the current season. ER, he says, also "isn't what it used to be." NBC points out that The Apprentice has come on strong and is selling at comparable rates to Friends.

Moonves says Apprentice "saved their bacon on Thursday nights" this season, but with Friends gone and ER weakening, NBC's big night is very vulnerable and CBS will grab some NBC Thursday dollars in the upfront.

Bottom line -- for the first time in 20 years "we will challenge NBC for the position of market leader," in the upfront sales market, says David Poltrack, executive vice president, research and planning, CBS.

Moonves says the total upfront sales leader could be CBS or NBC, depending on who sells more upfront inventory, but as far as price increases go, "CBS will be the clear leader," says Moonves.
Randy Falco, group president, NBC Television Networks, had this to say about the comments made by Moonves and Poltrack: "We hear that from CBS every year. It’s getting old, just like their audience."