Buyers predicting lackluster 4th-quarter scatter market

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Pullouts of major advertisers and stiff prices in the upfront marketplace are weakening prospects for the fourth-quarter TV scatter market.

"The fourth quarter will be soft ... scatter will be really quiet," said one major agency buyer. "Upfront price levels were higher than they should have been." The executive added that companies look to cut spending in the fourth quarter to save money if they haven't performed well through the year.

Jason Maltby, co-executive director of the national broadcast group at WPP Group's MindShare, said fourth-quarter buying is yet to be nailed down, but added, "Sell-out levels are lower."

Donna Wolfe, exec VP-chief negotiation officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, said, "It's premature, but if it was going to be incredibly robust we'd know."

Macro-factors such as high oil prices, poor stock-market performance and a sluggish economy are affecting advertisers' confidence. Another major agency buyer, who did not wish to be named, pointed to news that AT&T Corp. and Toys "R" Us both cut money out of the market, adding, "Fourth quarter could be somewhat soft if other clients follow. There may be some other cuts coming too."

not `gangbusters'

A cable sales executive said the pace was particularly slow. "The upfront wasn't as strong as some people predicted. If scatter was going to be tight it would be going gangbusters and it's not."

But other cable network sales executives contradicted that picture. Bruce Lefkowitz, exec VP-Fox Cable Entertainment, parent of FX and National Geographic Channel, said sales are pacing up around 20% ahead of this point last year, while Linda Yaccarino, Turner Broadcasting's exec VP-general manager, entertainment sales said her sales figures were ahead by double digits on the same period.

Mr. Lefkowitz said he was seeing some renewed activity among e-commerce sites such as Expedia, Yahoo! and MSN, as well as the main mid-calorie soda brands. "We're really optimistic about fourth quarter," he said.

Greg D'Alba, chief operating officer-sales and marketing at CNN, said the news provider is seeing new money from both the Bush and the Kerry campaigns and from new corporate advertisers.

"We're seeing a lot more corporate-brand-building among the Fortune 500 companies. Wireless is coming back strong and autos are going through the roof," he said.

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