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TV Ad Revenue Shows Smaller 23% Drop in May

(Image credit: IronHeart via Getty Images)

Television advertising revenue posted a smaller drop in May than in April as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt business, according to new figures from Standard Media Index.

TV revenue was down 23% to $716 million, SMI said. That compares to a drop of nearly 27% in April and left the 2020-21 broadcast season to date down 11.4%.

Broadcast ad revenue fell 23.9% to $234.9 million and cable was down 24% to $446.6 million. Syndication was up 2.5% to $34.9 million.

“Although in May the national TV ad marketplace is still in the doldrums, there have been some encouraging signs ad dollars will return in the second half of the year, especially with the anticipated return of live sports. We have high hopes for a quick recovery,” said James Fennessy, CEO of SMI.

When sports are taken out of the equation, May ad revenues were down just 15%. May is normally a big month for sports with the NBA and NHL playoffs going on, the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown being run and Major League Baseball in full swing. But this year COVID canceled or postponed live sports although slowly they are starting to make their way back onto the field and onto a screen near you.

A year ago, sports accounted for 17% of ad dollars, generating $52.8 million in ad revenue. This May, sports spending dropped 66% to $52.8 million and accounted for just 8% of TV revenue. ESPN and TNT, which carry the NBA were hit hardest, with TNT ad revenue plummeting 70.4% and ESPN down 58.7%.

Ad spending on entertainment shows were down 24% on broadcast TV and 16.1% for cable. 

In primetime, ad spending was down 23.9%. While all of the five English language broadcast networks were down more than 20% apiece, Univision was up 12.6% in primetime ad revenue.

On cable, even entertainment networks that grew their audiences lost revenue, HGTV, the fourth most-watched cable network, saw its viewership go up 8% but revenue drop 15.8%. Food Network’s ratings were up 9%, but revenue fell 12.6% A&E was up 2%, but ad revenue was down 0.7%.

With big increases in viewing, ad revenue for TV news was up 9.7% to $103 million in May. Broadcast news revenue was up 1.1% and cable news grew 9.7%. Fox News revenue was up 28.8%,CNN was up 26.7% and MSNBC climbed 15%.  News represented 15% of all national TV revenue, up from 11% a year ago.

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.