Disney Reports High Single-Digit Growth in Upfront Ad Sales

  • Company cites gains at ABC, youth-oriented Freeform channel
  • Entertainment giant didn’t report on ESPN sports network

Walt Disney Co. said advertising sales grew at a high single-digit rate for the new TV season that begins in September, driven by rising ad rates and volume. The company didn’t supply any figures for ESPN.

The results reflect so-called upfront sales at the ABC network, as well as cable channels such as Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family. Digital sales grew 20 percent, the company said in a statement Thursday.

Networks are beginning to report how they did in the upfronts, which can account for a majority of ad sales. They are doing so at a time when audiences are shrinking and they face more competition from streaming services such as Netflix Inc. and YouTube.com.

For the season that ended in May, ABC was down about 9 percent in total viewers and 12 percent among the 18-to-49-year-olds most coveted by advertisers, according to Nielsen data. Bloomberg News reported last week that CBS Corp. also saw growth in ad sales for the coming TV season.

Rita Ferro, ABC’s president of advertising sales, said in an interview that advertisers may have shifted some money to the upfront market from what they’d normally spend later. That lets them maintain the same number of viewer impressions, even though ratings are down. Other networks are likely seeing a similar shift.

“Supply is down overall, that means pricing will be up,” she said.

Disney’s digital sales, at about 10 percent of revenue overall, may be benefiting from advertiser concerns about where their spots appear online, Ferro said.

Advertisers responded to returning comedies, the Thursday night ABC lineup, which includes shows produced by Shonda Rhimes, and Freeform’s upcoming “Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger,” the company said.

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