Advertising weak? Quit worrying so much already

September 22, 2011

Viacom Inc’s not sweating it, Time Warner Inc. isn’t all that concerned. Why, CBS Corp and Discovery Communications Inc. are cool as cucumbers. Disney certainly sounds confident, as does Scripps Networks Interactive.

So why are investors and analysts — those Nervous Nellies of the financial world — so worried about the advertising market? Besides, you know, the fact that the stock market is getting smacked around, the job picture is just ridiculous, and the U.S. housing market is a wreck. Besides Europe’s debt crisis, which seems to have no resolution in sight. Besides the memories of 2009, when U.S. advertising spending dropped by 16 percent to $163 billion.

It may simply be that advertisers haven’t yet made the decision the cut budgets. But listening to all the top media executives at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia Conference this week left one with the impression that they are feeling pretty upbeat about advertising — and don’t expect any cuts in the near future.

Today, the final day of the conference, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman described ad sales as “strong” and predicted they would be up by just under 10 percent this quarter. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes was a bit more restrained, but still said ad sales are holding up and actually “pretty strong” at its cable networks.

And it wasn’t just them. Check it out.

  • CBS CEO Les Moonves: “I know the world wants us to say, ‘Gee, the economy is down and our advertising is down.’ That’s just not the case. The advertising climate is very strong.”
  • Walt Disney CFO Jay Rasulo: “The advertising space, I would say that what we’ve seen is consistent with what you heard in the conferences last week and what you’ve heard from people earlier this week. On the national level, still directionally pretty strong; locally, a little weaker.”
  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav:  “The advertising market remains very strong, and it’s been strong now for a year and a half. We haven’t seen any slowdown. We’ve seen it continue around the world. Now there clearly is a disconnect between what the economy is doing and what we are seeing on the advertising side, but we have not seen any slowdown. “
  • Scripps Networks CFO Joe NeCastro:  “If anything, people are looking around wondering why we’re really so nervous and that they get suspicious but nobody has changed their behavior in any meaningful way.”

Truth be told, New York Times CEO Janet Robinson was about the only wet blanket. Amid all the fun, Robinson had the nerve to warn that advertising revenue would drop by a larger-than-expected 8 percent this quarter, hurt by a pullback in real estate, help wanted and national auto ads.  (To be fair Bewkes also warned of print ads being “a little softer”).

“It’s clear that that economic conditions have been very difficult and getting more difficult, certainly even since the second quarter, and global uncertainty continues to be in the forefront.”

“With that in mind, we are seeing softness in the advertising business, the advertising market is definitely under pressure, and we are seeing that advertisers are certainly less likely or less frequently committing upfronts, primarily because of the uncertainty in their business.”

Geez, Janet, lighten up.

(Photo: Reuters)

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