Television Networks Enjoy an Advertising Sales Bonanza

Article excerpt

What's the hottest phenomenon on television today? For the public, it might well be a hit show like Ally McBeal or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for the broadcast networks, it is something more fleeting: those brief interludes known as commercial time.

In a frantic period of negotiations, the sale of prime-time commercial slots for the fall season -- known as the up-front market -- is exceeding even the most optimistic forecasts made by top television executives as recently as last month.

"It has been an extraordinary up-front this year," said David Verklin, chief executive at the Carat North America media services agency in New York, a unit of Aegis Group PLC that buys advertising for marketers. "If you blinked your eyes, you missed it." Network and advertising executives are projecting that upfront sales by the six networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB -- will climb at least 13 percent, to $7.25 billion, from about $6.4 billion last year. Only a few weeks ago, they were estimating a more moderate increase to a range of $6.8 billion to $7 billion. And broadcasters are enjoying increased sales for daytime, news and late-night programs as well as for prime-time shows. Add the revenue from those spots to the prime-time take and the total upfront take could reach $10 billion. "I knew there was a lot of money out there, but not that much," said Paul Schulman, president of Schulman/Advanswers NY, a media services agency in New York owned by the Omnicom Group. Better yet, the rivulet of advertising money from all those hot Internet companies that have gone public lately could soon become a flood, analysts say. The advertising bonanza, fueled by a strong economy and a rush by marketers to the medium that remains the quickest and surest route to consumers' wallets, is confounding a longstanding assumption that broadcast television is in an irreversible decline as cable TV steals market share. "The dollars pouring in surprised both the networks and the advertisers," said Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president for broadcast and programming in the United States at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York, the giant agency owned by WPP Group. …