NEW YORK (Reuters) - The top U.S. TV networks have moved closer to booking the bulk of their prime-time advertising deals for the 2008-09 season, with NBC first to wrap up $1.9 billion in broadcast deals, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
The deals mark a speedier conclusion to the annual session of so-called upfront negotiations than many media executives had expected.
NBC, controlled by General Electric Co, appears set to finish negotiations with advertisers first, with most of its deals at prices above those from a year ago, despite a shaky economy and a season of ratings declines.
NBC's total take is up about $100 million from a year ago, the source said. Other networks could wrap up their deals as early as next week.
Last year, the networks signed a combined $9 billion in ad deals, or roughly 80 percent of all the prime-time commercial deals booked.
Prices to advertise during the upcoming TV season on NBC -- home to shows like "ER," "The Office" and "30 Rock" -- rose by mid-single digits to high-single digits as measured by each thousand viewers, the source said.
At Walt Disney Co's ABC, prices this year have been running 9 percent to 10 percent above a year ago, while News Corp-owned ratings-leader Fox is estimated to have booked increases as high as low double-digits, sources said.
CBS Corp Chief Executive Les Moonves, meanwhile, said last week that prices appeared to be stronger than a year ago for the CBS network, though he cautioned at the time that negotiations could move slowly.
Indeed, most media executives had expected a slower upfront season, launched in mid-May, when major TV networks roll out new prime-time schedules and negotiate advertising sales.
Those expectations were based in part on the poor shape of the economy, which would create uncertainty around advertising budgets for big corporations.
But agency and network executives said in some cases the economy actually helped the process, with corporations looking to put money into well-tested media like broadcast television.
"In tough times, advertisers want to fund what they know works," one executive said.
Broadcast networks this year also had to cope with a 14-week screenwriters strike that depressed prime-time ratings and cut short the normal period the industry uses to develop new shows.
NBC responded by saying it would move to year-round scheduling and started holding informal meetings with advertisers six weeks ahead of their usual schedule.
Due to NBC's early start -- it announced its schedule in April while the other networks waited until May -- it was able to book its prime-time ad deals ahead of ABC, CBS, and Fox.