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Late-Night, Mornings Drive Overall Upfront Volume Gains for CBS (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 6/21/2017 Brian Steinberg
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CBS has found new traction in late night and morning news – and viewership gains for shows like “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” and “CBS This Morning” have “affected our bottom line,”CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves told reporters in May.

The remarks might be prescient. CBS expects to wrap its annual upfront discussions for advance ad commitments with volume gains driven largely by TV programs other than its array of primetime comedies and dramas, according to a person familiar with the situation, while volume for prime is expected to be flat with last year’s activity. Inside CBS, executives are pleased by the results, this person said, given that projections for 2017’s upfront market – when U.S. networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season – had called for volume to slip. In 2016, CBS attracted between  $2.26 billion and $2.6 billion in ad commitments for primetime programming cycle, and drew volume gains of between 3% and 5%.

The network did a large number of deals calling for it to get credit for seven days’ worth of viewing from advertisers, this person said, and in some cases was able to strike so-called “C35” deals that allow it to get credit for viewers who watch a show more than a month after it originally airs. The agreements represent a nod to changing viewer habits that allow fans of programs like “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory” to watch episodes of their favorites on demand and at times of their own choosing, rather than at a particular time on a specific day.

CBS’ results also illustrate how TV is evolving in an era when viewers are migrating toward new screens and viewing behaviors, and programming choices are being driven in some part by the swirl of controversy around President Donald Trump and a growing swell of White House intrigue. In the upfront market, U.S. TV networks’  success is typically driven by interest in the primetime schedule, and still is.  But in 2017, new attention on news programming and late night shows, which have brought viewers to the screen rabidly engaged in the current news cycle, is of growing importance to advertisers.

CBS sought high-single-digit to low-double-digit percentage increases in CPMs  – a measure of the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers that is integral to these annual discussions between TV networks and Madison Avenue – for non-primetime inventory, while seeking increases in the high-single-digit percentage range for primetime inventory, according to the person familiar with the situation.

It could not be immediately determined how much inventory CBS chose to hold back for so-called “scatter” advertising, or inventory that is purchased closer to air. That inventory typically costs more than the time that is reserved in advance in the upfront market.

One media-buying executive suggested CBS was aided by high demand from pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have long  been big spenders in news programming and on CBS. “Their demand helped drive” CBS performance, this buyer said – both in primetime and in so-called “fringe” programming.  This buyer also credited the experience of Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, who at present has the longest tenure overseeing a TV network’s ad sales. The TV industry has seen a broad turnover of senior ad-sales executives over the last year, and there are people new to the role at both Disney/ABC Television and at Fox Networks Group.

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