Fox leads charge in TV deals

NEW YORK Fri Jun 4, 2010 1:37am IST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. broadcast networks have made significant headway in clinching billions of dollars worth of advertising deals for the upcoming TV season, with Fox said to be leading the charge by nearly completing its dealmaking.

According to advertising executives, the News Corp unit has locked up contracts with advertisers at prices running 8 percent to 9 percent above those from a year ago, and could complete its negotiations by Friday or early next week. A Fox spokesman declined to comment.

The three other major U.S. broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- have made less progress, but all are involved in negotiations over prime-time commercial spots for the 2010-11 season, said the advertising and TV executives who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Fox runs an hour less of prime-time shows each night of the week, meaning it has fewer commercial deals to seal than its three rivals.

This year's so-called upfront should wrap up far sooner than it did a year ago, when the recession crushed advertising spending, and the process stretched into August. Based on Fox's deals and the sentiment among advertisers, prices also appear to be heading up.

CBS Corp Chief Executive Les Moonves, whose network pulled in the most overall viewers in the just completed TV season, said the CBS network expected to get a number of deals wrapped up within days.

"Without getting too specific we are very pleased. The reception has been terrific, the numbers are where we would like them to be. It's a very strong market place," he said, speaking at a Sanford Bernstein Conference on Wednesday.

Speaking at the same conference, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said ABC was in the "middle of selling" its 2010-11 season.

"The business that we have written so far -- and we have written some -- has been good and in line with what we expected."

NBC, a unit of GE, declined to comment.

Advertising and TV executives said discussions this year started almost immediately after the broadcast networks unveiled their prime-time lineups, a three-day whirlwind that began on May 17.

At this time last year, advertisers and broadcasters had hardly begun serious talks, setting up what turned into a protracted, contentious and frustrating upfront market. In the end, advertisers bought about 15 percent less commercial time, and successfully bargained for price cuts for the first time in eight years.

This year, major categories like auto, retail and financial services are in far better health, leading most to predict that the networks will win back last year's price cuts, and perhaps more. Sales volume should also be up, both sides have said.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba)

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