NEW YORK -- CBS chairman Leslie Moonves on Tuesday predicted double-digit advertising price increases for his first-place network during next month's market for commercial time.
He stopped short, however, of predicting that CBS will top NBC in revenue during the annual ad-buying frenzy known as the "upfront," when clients traditionally snap up about three-quarters of the commercial time available for the next TV season.
"We're feeling very bullish about where we are," Moonves said at a news conference.
NBC took in an estimated $3 billion during last year's upfront, with CBS second at $2.2 billion. CBS has more viewers - it is averaging 2.5 million more than NBC in prime-time this season - but is forced to charge less money because CBS viewers tend to be older and less desirable to advertisers.
NBC is first among viewers aged 18-to-49, with CBS narrowly behind Fox for third.
CBS is anxious to shed its old-fogey reputation, touting its stable schedule and potential for growth.
"There is a foundation here," Moonves said. "We are going to have leadership, not just for this year, but for many years."
Jack Myers, editor of the Myers Report, an industry newsletter, agreed with Moonves that CBS will get a double-digit increase in its CPM prices, larger than any other network. CPM stands for cost per thousand viewers.
"If you find anyone in the market who does not believe CBS will have the largest CPM increases, they're not watching it carefully," Myers said.
Still, NBC seems too strong to overtake in terms of total revenue, he said.
The battleground between CBS and NBC is most intense on Thursdays, the most lucrative night of the week for ad spending. With "Friends" leaving NBC's schedule, CBS hopes to benefit from a big shift in spending.
The success of "The Apprentice," however, may help NBC hold the line. Moonves conceded that the Donald Trump reality show "saved their bacon on Thursday night."
Myers believes that the broadcast networks will take in more than the $9.4 billion earned during the 2003 upfront, although some other industry experts have said revenue could slide.
Many experts expect the cable networks will get a bigger slice of available upfront money. The 50 or so basic cable networks will command a higher audience share than the broadcast networks this television season for the first time ever, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The question is how much cable ad revenue will increase, and to what extent will it siphon money from the broadcasters.
Also, the wild card in predicting spending is how much ad inventory is held back for sale later in what's called the "scatter" market. An unusually large amount of inventory was sold during last year's upfront. When the scatter prices sagged because TV viewership was off last fall, it led some clients to wonder whether they should be more conservative next year, said Jason Maltby of the ad-buying firm Mindshare.
"At this point, it's still all conjecture," he said. "The vast majority of advertisers still haven't figured out what they are going to do in the upfront."