Take cover: Forecast darkens for cable spending

storm-clouds.jpgAnybody out there in TV land riding an Olympic buzz (NBC’s ratings have been scorching) will be brought back down to earth by these numbers from SNL Kagan.

Cable TV ad revenue is forecast to grow at just 4.7 percent in 2009, the firm says. That compares to growth of about up 10 percent for 2008, when cable has been one of the few bright spots for media.  Or as paidContent sums it up, ”This year appears bad enough for media revenues, but for cable TV, 2009 is nothing to look forward to.”

The SNL Kagan numbers back up concerns that were voiced in an article by Reuters’ Kenneth Li after Viacom’s quarterly earnings report last month.

Although the portfolios of each conglomerate varies, making sweeping generalizations difficult, what unites them is a fear that a dramatic halt in newspaper and local advertising could seep into national advertising, namely cable and broadcast networks.

It is all the more troubling because cable networks are seen riding a high as their shows vie for award nominations as aggressively as they court broadcast viewers.

NBC winning big in the games

swim.jpg NBC is putting up big numbers so far in the Olympics.

Start with the opening ceremony. While some complained that the event couldn’t be seen live in the United States, the move to delay the broadcast and run it during prime-time paid dividends. Some 34 million viewers tuned in, up about 35 percent since the last summer games.

Indeed, helped by the splashy opening ceremony and the star power of swimmer Michael Phelps, NBC is setting the stage for what could be record Olympic viewership in America.  Over the first two days of its coverage, NBC has attracted a record 114 million total viewers – 4 million more than Atlanta in 1996 and nearly 20 million more than Athens in 2004.

Those numbers suggest that Web coverage hasn’t taken away from NBC’s TV audience.

That will be $1 billion, thank you very much

hammer.jpgNBC Universal has officially locked up more than $1 billion in advertising sales for the Olympics — and says it has more to sell as the games begin on Friday.

The media company majority-owned by General Electric has said all along that it was aiming for sales in excess of $1 billion, and has trumpeted the 3,600 hours of coverage it is running across the NBC network, cable channels, and online sites.

By some estimates, 30-second TV spots have been going for around $750,000, showing that live events are commanding top dollar from advertisers because they represent one of the few programming choices that consistently draw mass audiences. Moreover, viewers tend to watch such broadcasts in real time, rather than on digital video recording devices that allow viewers to skip through commercials.

‘How do you like the weather in Jordan, Senator?’

barackThe big three networks — and their big three evening news anchors — are all over Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East. Extensive coverage is planned, interviews will be touted, and ABC, NBC and CBS are sure to document his every more.

So is this attention on his trip just more evidence that the media plays favorites with Obama, as some have argued? (Who can forget the SNL skit?)

One evening news anchor, CBS’ Katie Couric,  made her feelings on the subject quite clear in a talk with TV critics. She believes there are “a number of really critical questions” Obama needs to answer about foreign policy.

More newspaper cuts… anyone surprised?

tribune-tower.jpgSo Tribune Co is cutting jobs at The Sun in Baltimore and Hartford Courant.

Not to sound callous, but by this point should anyone be surprised by news that a publisher is getting rid of jobs? After all, this is shaping up to be one of the worst years in memory for the newspaper business.

The upshot: The Sun will lose 100 jobs, 60 of them in the newsroom, and the Courant will cut about 60 jobs. (Don’t forget, Tribune is also cutting jobs at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune)

But it’s not just Tribune. It seems everyone is cutting jobs as advertising revenue plunges thanks to the one-two combination of a weak economy and competition from the Internet for marketing dollars.

Yachts, parties, lions – it must be Cannes

1cannes.jpgIt’s one of the big weeks for advertising (well, in terms of parties and sunshine), so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check in on Cannes. More than 12,000 advertising types have gathered in the South of France to toast the industry — and perhaps even collect an award.

This is an interesting year for Cannes, where a lot of the chatter at parties and meetings will likely be about either the recession or the rise of online advertising, Reuters notes.

The festival, in its 55th year, awards excellence with the so-called Lions trophies and hosts seminars and workshops. In a sign of how crucial the Internet has become to advertising, the Film Lions awards now includes films for Internet and mobiles.

Television totally rules!

dollars.jpgWhat’s all this talk about the struggles of the TV industry?

Sure, ratings were down again last season. Screenwriters walked off the job, and while they eventually settled, the actors may be next to strike. No new shows really caught fire, and that Web thing sure does seem to be stealing advertising dollars. Then there’s $4/gallon gasoline, a housing slump, job losses — which all adds up to a generally lousy economy.

And yet… the upfront market looked pretty strong. Last week, NBC gave an early indication that the market was healthy and moving more quickly than expected as reports surfaced that it had booked deals worth about $1.9 billion, with prices up by mid-single digits to high-single digits on a percentage basis.

Yesterday, word spread that ABC’s prices were up about 9 percent and CBS landed gains of 7 percent to 9 percent. Fox is believed to have done even better.

Fox: King of the world!

strike.jpgTV strike? What TV strike?

Seems that Fox survived the 14-week writers strike, and arguably thrived if you stack its prime-time ratings up against major broadcast networks. It has  finished the season as the undisputed ratings leader for the first time, thanks to a combination of the Super Bowl and that little talent show known as “American Idol.”

Sure, “American Idol” ended its latest run with year-to-year declines in both overall audience and ratings for viewers aged 18 to 49 – and the show notched some record ratings lows this season. But let’s be honest here, it’s coming off pretty tough comparisons.

Even if the talent show is fading a bit, the network has built a strong supporting cast around “American Idol,” one that includes “House,” “Bones,” and “24,” which will be back next year after the strike kept it off the schedule this season.

The Upfronts are dead, long live the Upfronts

upfront2.jpgFor years we have interviewed media analyst/newsletter editor/industry maven Jack Myers about the television upfronts. We have tried to track him down at upfront parties, cocktail napkin in hand, to get his initial reaction on the new shows trotted out by the networks while he talks to the most senior executives. We have written up his forecasts and predictions on how many billions of advertising dollars the nets will say they have booked.

And now, in what may be the most definitive sign that more than 50 years of upfront fanfare has come to an end, Myers says he will no longer prognosticate on their outcome, according to an e-mail newsletter sent round today:

This year, I am not offering predictions nor will I report after-the-fact on network Upfront revenues. The Upfront is no longer a representative indicator of network performance and the information released by the networks is, at best, questionable. If a network ever actually reports poor performance in the Upfront, then we can be assured it was a disaster.