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National TV Ad Revenue Down 12.8% in March: SMI

National television ad revenues fell $12.8% to $3.78 billion in March, the month when the Coronavirus crisis began to hit consumers and businesses, accordion to new figures from Standard Media Index.

The March drop left first quarter national ad revenue down 54% to $10.84 billion, according to SMI.

Broadcast TV ad revenue in March fell 19% to $1.16 billion compared to a year ago. SMI said the main reason was the loss of live sports programming, which started to disappear March 11.

Cable TV ad revenues fell 10.9% to $2.4 billion.

Syndication was up 15% to $181 million in March

ViacomCBS’s CBS, along with AT&T Turner were especially hurt by the loss of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Last year the 67-game tournament generated $648 million.

The loss of the tournament left CBS’s ad revenue down 48.1% at $283.6 million. Looking at entertainment shows only, CBS’s ad revenue was up 6%.

NBC’s ad revenue was down 7.6%, but led all broadcasters with $317.8 million in ad revenue during March. Fox was up 3.6% for the month and The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC edged up 2.6%.

Overall ad revenue for sports in March plunged 75.5% to $96 million.

With COVID-19 news coming on top of primary election activity, broadcast network news programming saw a 15.4% increase in ad revenue.

On cable, ad revenue for sports dropped by 43.2%. Oddly  ad revenue at Disney's ESPN was up 2.7%, leading all cable networks with a total of $166 million for March.

The loss of March Madness hit Turner’s TNT and TBS. TBS ad revenue was down 59.3% to $92.5 million and TNT dropped $28.6% to $97 million,

News networks did better, with CNN up 18.7% to $72 million. Fox News was up 4.8% to $78 million.MSNBC was down 4.3% to $36.6 billion.

Discovery’s HGTV was second in ad revenue in March, despite a decline of 5.9% to $100 million. Another Discovery network, TLC was up 8.9%.

 Stanard Media Index gets its data from invoices processed at large media buying group representing about 70% of all agency spending.