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Writers Guild Strike Had Little Impact on Q1 Ad-Sales Levels

6/13/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

The Nov. 5-to-Feb. 12 strike by the Writers Guild of America appears to have had a negligible effect on ad sales in network and cable TV in the first quarter, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

In a report released June 11, the advertising and marketing information firm said network TV expenditures actually increased 0.8%, its best quarterly performance in two full years.

Cable TV ad-spending growth was healthy at 4.1%, although that represented some slowing in growth compared to recent quarters.

Syndicated television grew 11.2%, a growth rate attributed to more hours of programming and limited exposure to the writers' strike, according to TNS. Even Internet ad sales fell back from double-digits, posting a quarterly gain of 8.5%. The softness is attributable to consumer anxiety over food, gas and housing prices, which is diminishing retail sales across the board.

Jon Swallen, TNS senior vice president of research, said that cable sales were strong in January and February, somewhat weak in March, but early numbers from April show a resurgence.

The volatility in monthly numbers demonstrates that advertisers are more cautious and hesitant about spending, cutting the lead times between the decision to purchase and the time ads appear, he said.

As for the impact of the writers' strike, the top 50 advertisers split their buys with 70% on broadcast and 30% on cable networks — the usual proportion. It appears, during the strike, advertisers “absorbed the pain, took their make-goods and went on their way,” Swallen said.

Overall, in the ad sales market, the quarter was the fifth consecutive one with “low to no ad growth,” Swallen said. Total ad expenditures increased just 0.6% in the first quarter. Growth in syndication and cable were offset by losses in local radio, local and national newspapers and business-to-business publications.

Among the top three advertisers, in terms of ad dollars, each increased their spending by double-digits compared to first quarter 2007.

Spending by Procter & Gamble Co. was up 15.8%, to $836.4 million; General Motors was up 12.6%, to $532.1 million; and Verizon Communications Inc. spent $531.1, a 10.4% increase. But big spending cuts were seen by AT&T Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Ford Motor Co. The latter trimmed ad spending by 31%.

Q1 Scorecard
Ad revenue by category compared to Q1 2007.
Source: TNS Stradegy ad expenditure database
Broadcast 0.8%
Cable 4.1%
Spot TV -2.4%
National Syndication 11.2%
Spanish Language TV 4.4%
Consumer magazines 0.2%
Internet 8.5%

September