Analyst: 2010-11 Broadcast Upfront Up 20%

Broadcasters can expect nothing but blue skies as the upfront draws near, as one analyst anticipates that networks will see significant gains in volume and pricing during the 2010-11 bazaar.

According to a report issued by Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente, the Big Four will enjoy a 20 percent gain in upfront dollars, commanding a total haul of $8.26 billion, with CPMs likely to increase by high-single-digit percentages.

DiClemente noted that the improvement will be driven by an improving automotive sector and a desire for media buyers to lock in favorable pricing. The analyst estimates Q2 scatter pricing coming in at a 15-25 percent premium versus the 2009-10 upfront, adding that this year’s springtime sales “will likely weigh in at some discount to those increases.”

The analyst also predicted that double-digit CPM increases were unlikely.

If the upfront proceeds in an orderly fashion, broadcasters could move as much as 77 percent of their available inventory, up from 69.8 percent in last year’s compromised marketplace.

Per DiClemente’s analysis, CBS and Fox should reap the benefits of season-to-date ratings increases across the core demos; as such, both nets can expect to boost volume by 20 percent or more. (CBS could boost its overall take by as much as 27.5 percent, to $2.43 billion, while Fox can swell its volume by 22 percent, to $1.96 billion. Both should post mid- to high-single digit CPM increases (7-8 percent).

As far as year-over-year gains are concerned, ABC and NBC may lag behind their rivals. DiClemente sees ABC’s upfront sales growing by as much as 16.2 percent versus a year ago, to $2.21 billion, while NBC may improve by some 12.8 percent, to $1.65 billion. The latter should get a lift as it returns to programming the 10 p.m. hour with original dramas, following the failed Jay Leno Show experiment.

ABC could lift its CPMs by some 6 percent, while NBC is expected to improve its price advantage by 4 percent.

Along with the improving economic outlook, DiClemente believes the networks will be yukking it up throughout the 2010-11 season, as the Big Four have ordered 44 new comedies, or just over half of the 84 total  pilots. Fox leads the way with 13 comedy pilots, followed by ABC (12), NBC (11) and CBS (8).

Last year, the Big Four ordered 34 comedy pilots.

Meanwhile, unscripted series may be waning in popularity. DiClemente said there are only five reality shows in development at ABC, CBS and NBC combined, while Fox has nary a one lined up for the fall. This time last year, the nets had a slate of 13 unscripted shows in the works for fall.

The networks will take the wraps off their new series offerings in New York, during the week of May 17. NBC kicks off the procession with a Monday morning presentation, while Fox will follow up later that same afternoon. ABC pitches buyers on the afternoon of the 18th, and CBS plans to show off its wares on Wednesday. The CW closes out the week with a May 20 pitch.

The outlook for ad-supported cable seems nearly as rosy, DiClemente said. “We generally believe advertising dollars are likely to flow back to the larger broadcast TV networks first, but cable will not be left far behind,” he said.

Cable upfront dollar volume gains should fall within a 15-20 percent range, slightly behind the percentile increase expected for the broadcast business.