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Networks advertising take defies the down economy

Soft economy? What soft economy?

Right now, the networks are celebrating like it's 1999. But this is wilder than anything Prince Ñ or anybody else Ñ could have imagined. It's 2003, baby. And when it comes to bringing in the cash that TV shows generate, we're talking about an all-time record.

You want numbers? Try $13.4 billion. That's what advertisers already have earmarked for TV commercials next season. Even by television standards, $13.4 billion can pay a lot of sitcom salaries and leave enough in the bank to provide megabonuses for network executives who already are rich.

In the trade, it's called the 'upfront.' Ad agencies and their clients converge on New York, where they are wined and dined by the networks, preview the new fall lineup and then make out checks payable to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox et al.

After taking a look at some of the shows myself, I can report that many of the offerings aren't worth 13.4 cents. Still, hardly any new reality series made the fall schedules, proving that while they may work as summer replacements, media buyers are more comfortable putting their money down on the more consistent fare of dramas Ñ and even some comedies.

So goes the golden business of television, which has been riding high lately on the heels of a sweetheart decision by the Federal Communications Commission that will allow media conglomerates to gobble up more TV stations Ñ up to three in a single market.

As with the recent FCC ruling, what happened at the upfront meetings defies logic. Let's count the ways:

• The networks have raised the cost of their commercials.

• The networks continue to lose market share to cable, practically every year.

• The purse strings on advertiser budgets remain tight as the economy grows oh-so-slowly.

And yet business is so over-the-top that the sold-out networks were turning away orders, which went over to the cable channels. For its part, cable commanded a record upfront, too.

Theories abound as to why all this is happening and why now. My favorite is that advertisers are realizing that good economy or bad, people are still going to watch network TV. And despite the fact that more people are tuning into cable channels, shows such as 'ER' and the 'CSI' franchise still attract the larger audiences.

More than $13 billion larger.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..