ABC, Fox up on Upfront, CBS flat, NBC to drop: Merrill Lynch report

MUMBAI: Will it stay flat or will there be another fall? And how much longer will the annual highpoint event for television networks in the US - the broadcast upfront presentations - even matter to executives taking the call on where to put their advertising buck?

As new digital media options open up, these are issues that TV execs in the US are having to grapple with increasingly in the upfront season but a report just out from investment firm Merrill Lynch does offer a window into what the future could hold. At least in the near to medium term. And contrary to the doomsayers, it is not all gloom for the networks in an age where a new generation of consumers are increasingly getting their entertainment fix outside of the TV screen.

To quote from the report: "Generally speaking, we believe that traditional broadcasters may be better positioned for this market than credited given their multiple touch points with consumers, experience in content production, already large inventory of much sought after video content and strong relationships with advertisers."

The report further said that if advertisers opted to shift their spends to new digital platforms like broadband or mobile, "broadcasters are primed to attract a significant share of that spending with their offerings in the new arenas".

On the dollars gained front, the report predicts the major networks should wind up about flat or slightly lower than the $9.1 billion booked in 2005, when upfront spending fell 2 percent from the previous year. Among the networks, ABC again leads its rivals on the continued momentum delivered by its three big hit shows - Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Upfront commitments are predicted to increase 7 per cent to $2.23 billion. News Corp's Fox meanwhile, shows the biggest projected growth of 12 per cent to reach $1.78 billion.

Though CBS will only be up 1 per cent this year, by virtue of its having the largest ad pie share among the top four US networks means it will rack up $2.63 billion from the upfront.

NBC continues the slide after seeing its prime-time ratings drop 14 per cent over the last year. Merrill Lynch predicts that NBC will decline 3 per cent this year, to touch $1.84 billion. Some consolation for the ratings challenged former numero uno network is that it has somewhat bottomed out from the disastrous 33 percent free fall it suffered last year.

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