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Cable TV Ads All But Catch Broadcast for the First Time

Nielsen Data Says Cable Grew Ad Take During Recession

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Snooki on 'Jersey Shore,' a cable powerhouse.
Snooki on 'Jersey Shore,' a cable powerhouse. Credit: MTV

Ad spending on cable is now on par with that allocated to broadcast TV, according to new data from Nielsen.

Ad spending on English-language cable-TV networks came to about $21 billion in 2011, roughly even with ad spending on English-language broadcast networks' $21.1 billion, according to Nielsen, which released the numbers as part of a new report.

The figures mark the first time, according to the market-research company, that cable has achieved parity of a sort with its longtime rival. Spending on cable TV has increased steadily over the last few years, up 42% since 2007.

How did cable achieve its growth? The medium has matured, developing more original, quality programming, and winning greater share of audience. As marketers winnowed down their spend on English-language broadcast TV during the recession of 2008 and 2009, cable continued to increase its ad revenue -- a testament, perhaps, to the fact that its programming aimed at niche audiences is typically significantly cheaper than what airs on broadcast.

Nielsen said its figures show that cable has essentially caught up with broadcast.
Nielsen said its figures show that cable has essentially caught up with broadcast. Credit: Nielsen

To be sure, broadcast is still bigger than cable. After all, it takes dozens of cable outlets, large and small, to match the earning power of the five big English-language networks. A prime-time ad on NBC, CW, ABC, CBS and Fox is also, in nearly all cases, likely to cost more than a similar promotional berth on a cable outlet.

Nielsen's data also shows that spot TV has yet to return to its recent 2008 high point of $25 billion in ad revenue. In 2011, the medium took in approximately $23 billion, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, Spanish-language cable and network TV saw double-digit growth in ad spend, up 24% and 16%, respectively, from 2010.

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