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TV Ad Revenue Rises 1.7% in Q1

U.S. television media managed a relatively good 1.7% gain in measured ad revenue for the first quarter, according to TNS Media Intelligence, with four of five TV categories rising: TV syndication (11.2%), Spanish-language TV (4.4%), cable networks (4.1%) and broadcast networks (0.8%). Broadcast spot TV was the weak link, down 2.4%.

The aggregate 1.7% TV hike surpassed the overall 0.6% increased in U.S. advertising in the three months ended March 31 -- meager growth amid skyrocketing energy prices and a plunge in the housing market.

“Enduring concerns about economic conditions and consumer spending behavior continued to cast a pall over the (entire) advertising market during the first quarter,” TNS senior vice president of research Jon Swallen said in a statement. “After a hopeful start to the year, the pace of ad spending slowed perceptibly during March, and early figures from the second quarter indicate little immediate or sustained improvement in the core ad economy.”

The 0.8% gain in broadcast network was the best quarterly performance in two years, but Swallen said in an interview that the category’s outlook was not clear, despite the buoyant upfront market.

He noted that TNS also measured a 2.3% increase in ad inventory, which implied a 1.5% decline in unit prices. He said the upfront climate in past years has not always been a reliable indicator because after the fourth quarter, upfront buys are cancellable.

The 11.2% hike in syndication was impressive at first blush, but it was mainly due to more syndication programming in the marketplace. Also, syndication was not hard-hit by the Hollywood’s writers’ strike, which is a nonrecurring situation.

Swallen felt that the 2.4% decline in broadcast spot TV was “discouraging” because it came during a presidential-election/Olympic Games year. He said economically sensitive retailers and car dealers have been particularly weak categories.

The 4.1% ad increase for cable networks was an average for more than 70 networks with performances that varied greatly.

TNS measured an 8.5% rise in Internet display ads, which represented one-half of the growth rate in recent quarters. Swallen pointed out that TNS just measures display Web ads, and not faster-growing search ads on the web. Display was hurt by cutbacks from retailers that slashed spending across all media. The display ad deceleration “indicates that the Internet is not completely immune from difficulties” in key ad categories, he added.

Looking at the top 10 categories of advertisers, direct response, local services/amusements, restaurants, travel/tourism and personal-care products registered gains of 2%-9%. Financial services -- ranked No. 1 -- registered a modest 0.3% gain. Losers among the top 10 were domestic automobiles plunging 16%, non-domestic automotive down 7.4%, telecommunications down 7.5% and miscellaneous retailers down 6.1% (the last category does not include department stores, food stores and home furnishing/appliances).

The TNS survey also monitored brands appearing in TV programming, finding 12 minutes and 8 seconds of in-show brand appearances in primetime network and 15:04 of network commercials. Unscripted reality shows were above average with 17:19 in brand appearances versus 5:29 for scripted sitcoms and dramas. Late-night network talk shows averaged 12:17 per hour.

The Biggest Losers: Couples led with 47:26 in brand appearances per hour, followed by quarterlife (40:32), American Idol (31:00), Celebrity Apprentice (27:40) and Jimmy Kimmel Live (24:30).

Percent Change in Measured Ad Spending, Q1 2008 vs. Q1 2007:

Television Media: 1.7%

Network TV: 0.8%

Cable TV: 4.1%

Spot TV: -2.4%

Syndication-National: 11.2%

Spanish-Language TV: 4.4%

Magazine Media: 0.8%

Consumer Magazines: 0.2%

B2B Magazines: -3.2%

Local Magazines: -2.1%

Sunday Magazines: 17.1%

Spanish-Language Magazines: 14.2%

Newspaper Media: -5.2%

Local Newspapers: -5%

National Newspapers: -6.2%

Spanish-Language Newspapers: -5.3%

Internet: 8.5%

Radio Media: -4.5%

Network Radio: 12%

National Spot Radio: -3.1%

Local Radio: -7.2%

Outdoor: 2.5%

FSIs: 8.8%

TOTAL: 0.6%

Brand Appearances vs. Advertising, Q1 2008 (Brand Appearances/Ad Messages):

Primetime Network: 12:08/15:05

Unscripted Programs: 17:19/15:09

Scripted Programs: 5:29/5:00

Late-Night Network: 12:17/14:36

Source: TNS Media Intelligence