Of the major English-language broadcast networks, only Fox saw a gain in ad revenue in 2011, a sign that even an advertiser's primary need -- to get commercials in front of the broadest and biggest audience possible -- has its limits. The News Corp. network aired the Super Bowl in 2011, a likely generator of ad revenue that might otherwise not have flowed to the company's coffers.
Fox's ad revenue in 2011 rose to nearly $5.17 billion, up 15% in 2010, according to data from Kantar Media, a WPP-owned tracker of ad spending.
At the same time, ad revenue decreased in 2011 at CBS, ABC, NBC and the CW, according to Kantar.
Kantar said earlier this week that ad revenue for all broadcast TV declined 2% in 2011, despite third and fourth quarters buoyed by strong pricing for football, the debut of the costly-for-advertisers "X Factor" on Fox, and a World Series that lasted a full seven games. Analysts cite an auto-ad slowdown during a good part of the year owing to the Japanese nuclear crisis as well as a 2010 buoyed by ad spending related to the Olympics and political elections.
The figures mark a bit of a turnaround from 2010, when all the broadcast networks saw their ad-revenue take increase over a dismal 2009. At the time, advertisers were untying their purse strings and rushing to get back into the market after suffering from consumer ennui during a severe recession. In 2011, it would seem, marketers felt less certain about increasing their ad commitments.
CBS Corp.'s CBS, which continued to generate the most ad revenue among the networks, saw its 2011 ad sales decline about 3.3%, Kantar said, to around $6.26 billion. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC revenue 2011 revenue fell about 3.9%, to about $4.92 billion, Kantar said.
NBC Universal's NBC ad revenue fall about 12.9%, Kantar said, to about $4.2 billion. NBC aired the Winter Olympics from Vancouver in 2010, which may help to account for some part of the drop in 2011. The CW network, jointly owned by CBS and Time Warner , posted an ad-revenue decline of about 11.6%, to about $542.3 million.
The networks all declined to comment on the figures.
The Kantar numbers are widely used in the media industry, though they are often taken as directional indicators rather than gospel. Analysts point out the data is often based on commonly available rates, when it's well-known in the ad world that each TV advertising deal is often founded on very specific terms. In some cases, ad pacts are discounted based on the volume an advertiser buys with a media outlet.
As English-language networks waded through challenging waters last year, Spanish-language TV navigated easier terrain. Univision's ad revenue in 2011 rose 16.7% to about $2.18 billion. NBC Universal's Telemundo saw 2011 ad revenue rise about 2.8%, to about $915.4.
To some minds, the Kantar numbers may be more reliable than other indicators of the TV economy. The Kantar data chronicle an entire year of advertiser outlays to TV, while other numbers commonly used to gauge TV's fortunes usually center on totals from the annual ad-sales season known as the upfront, during which TV networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory.
The trouble with the upfront numbers? They represent only commitments, not cash in the networks' coffers, and largely pertain to prime-time advertising inventory. And the figures are often wildly speculative, differing significantly from media-company balance sheets later on in the year.