NBCU, Paramount, Fox Execs Say Upfront Sales Nearly Done With Solid Gains But Broader Ad Outlook Mixed

Three leading media execs said upfront sales will wrap up shortly with Paramount and NBCU seeing increases in the high single digits, according to CEOs Bob Bakish and Jeff Shell.

Fox Corp. CFO Steve Tomsic was on board with a 9%-to-12% range presented by analyst Doug Mitchelson at a CSFB investor conference Tuesday, noting the strength of the company’s news and sports. The execs spoke in back-to-back to Q&As.

Shell is “thrilled” with the increase since NBCU had expected a lower “mid-single-digit” boost coming in. Volume is comparable with last year. He said declines in “viewership and distribution due to cord cutting and everything else was offset by pricing at Peacock.” The addition of the streaming service has made NBCU the biggest advertiser at the upfront, he said, and sales are pretty much complete with only a “smattering” left.

Paramount is about “80% to 90%” done – “so almost there but not totally,” said Bakish, citing price increase in the “high singles” for both broadcast and cable, and digital volume up “significantly.” He thinks that’s partly from competitors “doing some things that are probably too aggressive on the linear pricing side — because we have seen agencies add digital volume as the upfronts go on.” He didn’t elaborate on who did what.

Tomsic noted “really, really strong levels of commitment, which are north of where we were at this time last year. And just as important in all of that, apart from doing it with all of our traditional linear nets, we’ve been able to get really really strong interest and commitments for Tubi,” its AVOD service.

It’s an executive window into a upfront season that’s been taking some time to close after presentations in May amid rather intense economic uncertainty.

“Net-net the market’s a little tough for sure,” Bakish said. “Visibility is mixed and there are some challenges given the economic headwinds. We are seeing some categories that are affected by things like supply chain and inflation, but we are also seeing some categories that are doing well – travel, movies, sports. And politics will be a huge plus in the second half of the year.”

Shell said NBCU is starting to see some weakness in the scatter market, but it’s very segment specific. Auto spend is extremely weak, likely driven by the lack of inventory — so a supply chain issue, not inflation, he said. Pharmaceutical advertising is also soft.

Inflation is near a 40-year high making goods and services of all kinds more expensive. There’s a fear of recession as the U.S. Federal Reserve raises interest rates to combat rising prices And the pandemic is having a lingering effect on global manufacturing supply chains. Companies, faced with higher costs and uncertainty, are trimming ad budgets.

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