National TV Ad Spending Fell 5% to $4.4 Billion in Q3

Fox News
Cable news generated 22.5% of third-quarter ad impressions. (Image credit: Fox News)

National television advertising spending fell 5% to $4.4 billion in the third quarter, according to fresh data from measurement and analytics company iSpot.TV.

The drop was somewhat smaller than expected considering that a year ago, the NBA Finals and Summer Olympics were televised during Q3. Ad impressions were also down about 5.4% in the quarter to 596 billion, according to iSpot.

In the quarter, ABC delivered the most ad impressions — a 12.02% share of the total. ABC supplanted NBC, which was number one a year ago.

The other networks delivering the most impressions were CBS, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN, Univision, Fox and Telemundo.

With Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all in the top 10, cable news was a force in the quarter, accounting for 22.5% of total national impressions. While falling short of the record levels seen in the 2020 presidential election year, impressions were up from from 20.3% a year ago and ahead of 2019 and 2018. 

National Football League games also accounted for a big chunk of impressions, with a 4.22% share. College football was the second most-seen program with 2.79% of impressions, followed by Good Morning America, SportsCenter and Today.

In primetime, iSpot notes that reality shows are surging. Among those generating the most ad impressions are Big Brother, America’s Got Talent, The Bachelorette, American Ninja Warrior and The Voice. iSpot also included CBS perennial 60 Minutes and Fox and WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown in this category.

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Ad categories generating the most impressions were quick-serve restaurants, auto & general insurance, automakers, wireless services and streaming services.

Top individual brands were Progressive, Subway, Geico, Indeed and Verizon. The top new national TV advertisers were Astepro nasal spray; the National Injury Law Center; law firm Marcardi, Russotto, Spencer & Balban, which is pursuing the Camp Lejeune water-contamination lawsuit; NFL Plus; and Comiranty, the COVID vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. 

According to iSpot, the two most likeable commercials featured animals. A PetSmart ad highlighting adoptions was No. 1 and a Hyundai ad spot shows a dad’s warming relationship to the family dog was No. 2. Both commercials had above-normal positive purchase intent scores.

The funniest ad featured Nick Saban, Deion Sanders and a goat for Aflac.

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter, iSpot suggests we should expect a holiday and retail boom in impressions compared to last year, but notes that “value may be the name of the game as audiences are putting savings on their holiday shopping list.”

The shift of the World Cup to the fourth quarter should shake up how major brands approach live sports in November and December, and Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video bears a close watch as the season goes on.

As more advertisers move to put ads on streaming and connected TV, “you’ll be hearing more about transparency and verification,” iSpot said, and the midterm elections will be taking up a bigger share of national linear, streaming and local TV. ■

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.