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National TV Ad Spending Down 2% in 4th Quarter

Spending on national TV advertising dropped 2% in the fourth quarter, according to new figures from research company Standard Media Index.

Broadcast ad spending was down 2% to $4.8 billion, while cable networks saw a 1.6% fall to $6.8 billion in the quarter, which started slowly but showed improvement in December.

The decline reflects a big drop in upfront commitments made by advertisers. SMI says the value of commercials bought in the upfront fell 7%. Broadcast was down 8% and cable was down 7%.

The networks were able to make up some of that shortfall in scatter. SMI says fourth quarter scatter was up 34% for the broadcasters and 23% for cable networks.

Big spending categories in scatter included non-alcoholic beverages, toys and video games, and computers and software.

Spending on digital was up 16% in the quarter to $7.6 billion, cutting into TV's share of marketing dollars. SMI estimates that digital's share grew to 29% from 26%, while TV's share fell to 56% from 59%.

Among the broadcast networks, NBC had the largest share and grew its sales by 3% in the quarter. CBS' sales were up 2%. Telemudo sales were up 5%. Fox ad sale were down 12% in the quarter, Univision was off 6% and ABC dipped 2%, according to SMI.

ESPN was the ad sales leader in cable and it was up 3%. AMC Networks registered a 28% gain and Viacom's collection of channels was up 2%.

Digital properties related to TV networks made big gains in the quarter— NBC.com was up 104% and ESPN.com was up 70%.

Overall, SMI said ad spending was flat in the fourth quarter, but up 6% for all of 2014. SMI gathers its data directly from the buying computer systems of the top media agencies representing about 80% of total spending.

(Photo via Ervins Strauhmanis's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 19, 2014 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

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.