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Upfronts 2011: Scripps Nears $1 Billion In Volume

With strength across its portfolio, Scripps Networks has enjoyed its best upfront ever, with volume for the programmer approaching the billion dollar plateau.

Although the approval to order process has yet to finalize, Steve Gigliotti, president, national ad sales and marketing at Scripps Networks Interactive, said the programmer recorded its best sales position during the annual Madison Avenue bazaar, which has been a record-setting one for cable overall with volume reaching an estimated $9.4 billion.

That projected intake would surpass that of broadcast, which garnered some $9.1 billion in commitments, for the first time.

"This has been a robust market overall. With strength from general-market advertisers and our networks' endemics, this has been the best upfront in our company's history," Gigliotti said. "I'm comfortable in saying volume is approaching $1 billion."

Gigliotti said that Scripps, whose lifestyle network portfolio comprises Food Network, HGTV, DIY, Travel, Cooking Channel and GAC, is "98% done" with its upfront selling, as some smaller accounts remain outstanding. As part of the process, he said that Scripps's inventory has gone to hold, with the agencies now presenting what they've secured to clients. They, in turn, most approve the schedules, before the business goes to order. "Typically, there isn't a lot of breakage at this point," he said.
Without specifying the ratios, the executive said that Scripps had recorded an upfront volume gain in the "high teens." As for cost-per-thousand pricing, Gigliotti calculating "aggregate dollars year-over-year, including new players," said that he was comfortable pegging Scripps's CPM increase in the low teens.
As was the case for many top programming groups, this year's upfront moved quickly. In recent years, Scripps typically conducted its upfront selling over 10-day spans. This time, the bulk of its business was written over four days.
"It was a throwback in many ways. We worked from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 in the morning. There was a lot of pizza, which at my age isn't really good for the health," he said.
Gigliotti said that with all the RFPs Scripps received, it could have recorded a much higher sell-through. However, given that a number of the programmer's endemic advertisers operate on a calendar year basis and the expected opportunities in the scatter market, Scripps always elects to hold back units.
"It's funny because for six to nine months you're encouraging clients to buy. But we need to preserve inventory, to keep enough seats in the house," he said. Nevertheless, Scripps did go a couple of points above its typical 50% upfront sales level.
Gigliotti said that Scripps saw increases across the board with all sectors, adding some new clients in different categories.
The top services, Food Network and HGTV, enjoyed solid gains, according to Gigliotti, who was also pleased by the progress Travel made in its second upfront under the programmer's watch.

"No matter what the brand, it takes a while to build pricing and the business," he said. "Travel approached the pricing and inventory levels of our other networks."

Cooking Channel, which was converted last year from Fine Living as a flanker service to Food, also attracted many to its upfront table. "Cooking is in a nice place. It's quite affordable, especially for clients looking to enter this field. It's at price points where they can get involved before making the transition to Food over the next few years," said Gigliotti, who saw the same thing occur with a number of accounts who began with DIY and then moved to HGTV. He foresees a similar development curve for some accounts with Cooking.

Although most of the upfront lifting is behind Gigliotti and his team, there's still plenty of work to be done.

"We're in the process of going around to major clients and clarifying all the bells and whistles, making sure we put all the fine points on the vignettes and integrated packages we put together," he said. "We also want to go out and say thank you for the opportunities and their business."