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Network Scatter Market Slows

In a word, first-quarter network television scatter sales were slow. Buyers report paying price premiums about 5% over upfront prices—30% lower than a year ago.

But executives say the scatter pace will pick up later in the year when Olympics- and election-related spending heats up.

"Things are kind of soft right now," says Bob Riordan, EVP/director of network broadcast, PMG. "It's very much like fourth quarter. There was a burst of telecom, pharmaceutical and entertainment/studio dollars. Then it got quiet."

Jean Pool, EVP/COO, Universal McCann, agrees. "It's quiet out there. First-quarter scatter doesn't seem very strong. And fourth quarter wasn't sparkling, either. Most agencies are asking for extensions on their cancellation rights, so they might be considering some."

Pool forecasts scatter increases of 5%-10%.

Andy Donchin, SVP/director, national broadcast, Carat, agrees on the single-digit scatter increases but is more optimistic about buys holding firm. "Second-quarter options are getting picked up. There have been some cancellations but no mass money moving out. I see it as a very controllable scatter market." Looking ahead to the upfront market, Donchin expects a much tougher stand against network ad rates.

Stuart Zuckerman, VP of sales and marketing for PBS's Nightly Business Report, agrees but sees opportunity as the landscape of business news on television starts changing. "Companies seeking a business-news environment will seek out sponsorship opportunities with us in 2004."