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The Network TV Upfront: CBS Is Where the Sun Always Shines

The speculation over how this year's network TV upfront will work out has begun in earnest, and the overall theme is, of course, that it will be down; the only question is by how much. Here are some individual headlines:

We could channel our inner Sesame Street here and ask which one of these things is not like the others, but it's pretty obvious. Cock-eyed optimist Moonves continues to say what he's been saying for months: that based on its strong ratings performance, CBS (BNET Media's ultimate corporate overlord) will likely get both ad dollar increases and increases in its CPM, or the cost-per-thousand viewers it charges advertisers, despite the economy. If he's right, that would mean that the pounds of flesh extracted from ABC, the CW, Fox and NBC would be even more on a network-by-network basis than the analysts predict for the market overall. Ouch.

But there's one important dynamic to remember here. Because of moving Leno to 10 p.m. NBC has a somewhat different cost structure than its main competitors. It may well expect its share of revenue to go down at 10 p.m., but its profit margin for the cheap-to-produce, five-nights-a-week Leno show, will be much higher than it used to be. When you see that NBC's take in the upfront is down, take it with a grain of salt.

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