On The Walt Disney Company earnings call yesterday, ABC made clear it is the latest broadcast net to go for the potential silver lining in this year's upfront cloud, by holding back inventory usually sold during the upfront for the scatter market, which is sold closer to airtime. With more positive news about the economy lately, that's looking like a better and better bet. With, as ABC noted, many advertisers holding back from spending in the upfront, and all of the broadcast networks having to swallow CPM declines, it seems like a good idea to create a potentially more robust market later on in the TV season, which is essentially what this strategy is. Beautiful thing to be able to manipulate inventory like that -- if you're a TV network, that is.
ABC's decision to hold back inventory follows NBC's admission that it would so in May, though, not surprisingly, neither network has said how much more of the traditional 20 to 25 percent held back for scatter was in the offing. But they probably aren't the only ones. I don't think BNET Media's corporate overlord, CBS, has said it's holding back inventory in so many words, but CEO Les Moonves basically hinted at this strategy at a conference back in March; I can't imagine that Fox isn't following suit.
Another reason to hold back inventory for scatter is to get better prices now by cutting supply. While single-digit CPM decreases is what the networks have had to agree to, they haven't had to take the double-digit drops that advertisers wanted them to several months ago. There are many reasons for that -- one being that neither side ever completely wins -- but holding back inventory may well be another one of them.