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National TV Ad Revenue Down 27% in April: SMI

(Image credit: Future)

National television advertising revenue fell 26.7% to $2.7 billion in April from a year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic washed over the economy, research company Standard Media Index said.

“The TV ad market in April was impacted by a perfect storm of events, with millions of Americans going on unemployment, stay-at-home orders hurting a number of advertising categories, the loss of top rated live sporting events and studios shutting down their production facilities. There has never been such a calamity occurring all at the same time,” said James Fennessy, CEO of SMI. “It’s not surprising at all that virtually every broadcast and cable network was so negatively impacted.”

Broadcast ad revenue for April was $907 million, down 33.4%, according to SMI’s AccuTV. Revenue for cable was down 24.8% to $1.66 billion. Syndication showed a 12.1% decrease to $140.2 million.

The weakness of the market was reflected in the scatter market, where spending dropped 36%.

With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament canceled, the NBA and NHL halted and the beginning of baseball season postponed, ad spending on TV sports plunged 72%. SMI estimates the loss of the NBA cost Disney’s ESPN and AT&T’s Turner Sports $240 million in revenue. College basketball vanishing cost ViacomCBS and AT&T $200 million, while the loss of the NHL cost Comcast’s NBC Sports $40 million and missing golf including The Masters, was a $30 million hit for the networks. Baseball sidelined $25 million.

Ad revenue generated by entertainment shows on the broadcast networks was down 21.6%, with some individual shows down as much as 50%. Fox’s The Masked Singer pulled in $26 million, making it the top show for the month.  

On cable, entertainment programming drew 17.4 million less in ad revenue than a year ago. 

Broadcast TV news programs attracted 5.5% more ad revenue as ratings rose during the pandemic. CBS had the biggest gain in news, with revenue up 20%, driven by a 27% increase for CBS This Morning. ABC was up 5% and NBC gained 3%.

Despite big increases in viewership, ad revenue for news on cable TV was down 1.6% in April. Fox News posted a 65% increase for its weekday primetime lineup.

“Before the pandemic the ad marketplace had been strong, with the expected return of live sporting events, innovative programming strategies and stay-at-home orders slowly being lifted by states, we can expect the national TV ad marketplace to slowly but surely rebound in the months ahead,” Fennessy said.

SMI gets its data from the actual invoices processed by media buying groups accounting for about 70% of all agency spending. SMI’s AccuTV models for the remaining 30% of the market.

Jon Lafayette
Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.