By Julie Liesse
Cable’s New Boom
After a soft 2009, cable networks are experiencing a big uptick in marketer spending going into the upfront market.
Add to that an explosion of original programming and an expansion of channels’ branding, and the outlook is bright
Having survived the worst upfront in the midst
of the worst economy in decades, cable networks have
bounced back in a big way—and are heading into the 2010
upfront season feeling good about the year ahead.
How bad was last year’s upfront?
“Soft and negative,” says Jon Steinlauf of Scripps Net-
works. “Long. Hard-fought.”
“As cloudy a picture as you could present,” says David Levy
of Turner Broadcasting.
“Very tough on everybody,” says Arlene Manos of Rainbow Media.
“The only thing good about last year’s upfront is that like
most difficult markets, it probably represented an overcor-rection and set up a really good year this year,” says Mel Berning, exec VP-ad sales of A&E Television Networks.
For cable networks and their clients, the 2009 upfront
Scripps’ Jon Steinlauf
dragged on for months, with some negotiations spilling over
into September. “It was maybe the slowest cable upfront we have
ever seen,” says Mr. Steinlauf, senior VP-ad sales for Scripps.
“That was because of advertiser reluctance to make long-term
Mr. Levy, president of ad sales, distribution and sports for
Turner, says advertisers were focused on “flexibility, because
they didn’t have true clarity about what was going to happen
next in the economy and their businesses. So what they did was
to put money on the side rather than invest in the upfront.”
Overall, the cable upfront market was down 13 percent in
2009 from the previous year, to about $6.7 billion, says Sean
Cunningham, president-CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. But he estimates that cable ad revenues overall
finished the year at about $18.7 billion, up 1. 8 percent.
What happened? “As the recession started to hit hard, the
advertiser reaction was to make less long-term commitments,
more short-term commitments,” Mr. Steinlauf says. “Com-
panies were watching the stock market and economy closely
and making deals at the last possible minute.”
But then, Mr. Berning says, “Flash forward to the fourth
quarter. Marketers started spending a lot of the monies that
they had been protecting all year. The fourth quarter turned
out far better than anyone expected.”
Advertisers found scatter pricing rising in the fourth quar-
ter and into 2010—with CPMs 20 percent to 30 percent over
upfront pricing, “just ridiculously high,” Mr. Levy says.
By Nancy Giges
On New Originals
The cable television industry is in the midst of an
explosion of original programming. Networks such as ABC
Family, A&E and Bravo are producing more hours of original
programming—dramas, comedies, reality series and docudramas—than ever before.
It was the leading general-entertainment networks that set
the table for this feast, with a serious investment in top-notch,
prime-time scripted dramas that began nearly a decade ago
and has accelerated since then.
USA Network is on a creative winning streak and has plans
to dramatically increase its original-series offerings. AMC is
doubling the size of its portfolio and, for the first time, will
run back-to-back original premieres on Sunday nights starting in August. TNT continues to challenge the broadcast networks with a growing lineup of originals scheduled on
multiple weeknights. And FX, which produced 97 episodes of
original television in the year ending June 30, has 141 episodes
planned for the next 12 months.
“It’s arguably the most vibrant marketplace for innovation,”
says John Landgraf, president-general manager, FX Networks.
In summer 2011, Turner Entertainment’s TNT will debut
a new, as-yet-untitled alien invasion series created and produced by Steven Spielberg. The series stars Noah Wyle as the
leader of a ragtag group of soldiers and civilians struggling
against an extraterrestrial occupying force.
“[The Spielberg show is] one of the most exciting things
for us on the horizon,” says Michael Wright, exec VP-head of
programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies. “It’s
fun, exciting—a very cool show with a lot of special effects.”
In a media landscape in transition, the big general-entertainment, basic cable networks are picking up any slack left by
the broadcast networks and running with it. And in producing more award-winning, cutting-edge programming, they
are competing with the broadcast networks head-on and all
Mr. Landgraf points to the 10 p.m. (ET) time slot, traditionally where broadcast networks have experimented with
their highest-quality, most risky programming. Now facing
such edgy competition as “Lost” on ABC, he says, the broad-
cast networks are having trouble competing against premium
and basic cable in the 10 p.m. drama space, also home to se-
ries such as AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and
USA’s “White Collar.”
Viewers, particularly younger ones, no longer distinguish
between cable and broadcast, but instead sample shows from
10 or 12 favorite channels. Viewers are simply looking for
shows they love and TV they relate to, Mr. Wright says.
Tapping in to more viewers, especially in certain desirable
demographic groups, brings in blue-chip advertisers—the core
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