Thank goodness for the iPad Mini.
The consumer-tech industry is saving the ad industry from a dreadful fourth quarter as big-budget pushes from Microsoft, Samsung, Activision, Nintendo, Apple and others flood the market with holiday spots. For the most part, they're part of product rollout plans purchased in this year's TV upfront, which Apple participated in for the first time.
"There's a lot of new tech money in the market," said John Nitti, president of activation at Zenith Optimedia.
Now, agencies and media companies are anxiously waiting to see if marketers with unspent, remnant budgets will release them into the market in the next few weeks. But that hasn't happened -- yet, at least.
"Normally, we start seeing year-end money start kicking in from retailers and movie studios, but that hasn't come to fruition," said Michael Law, senior VP-national video at Carat.
So far, early numbers from the holiday shopping season provide a glimmer of hope.
"Online shopping numbers are up double-digits," said Bryan Wiener, CEO of Dentsu unit 360i. "We had a number of clients that did so well Thursday and [Black] Friday that they put more money to work Saturday and Sunday."
But there's another wild card: Congress has yet to reach a deal on tax cuts set to expire at the first of the year, the so-called fiscal cliff. Each day that no deal is reached is another day advertisers feel more comfortable sitting on the sidelines.
So far, marketers have steered clear of the last-minute TV ad market, known as "scatter." But even if they do come back, there won't be a lot to buy.
With ratings down significantly for all the broadcast networks except NBC, supply is tight, and the networks may be forced to reserve already-limited inventory for make-goods, or ad time given to clients to make up for shortfalls in rating guarantees. Season-to-date ratings among viewers 18 to 49 are down 9.4% in aggregate at the Big Four as of Nov. 27, according to Nomura Securities analyst Michael Nathanson.
Any last-minute money that does flow into the market often goes first to media that can be bought quickly and easily, such as search, programmatic display and online media. Some ad networks and startups are reporting best-ever quarters, particularly if they can appeal to the demos sought by consumer-tech advertisers and automotive. "We're up 30% over last year. Being male-oriented seems to be helping us right now," said Keith Richman, CEO of Break Media.
Added Eric Franchi, co-founder of ad network Undertone: "Consumer tech has been a good story for us in 2012."
Holding companies WPP, IPG and Publicis Groupe are expected to update their five-year ad forecasts today, which should show some improvement in the second half of 2013 as consumer spending and industrial production continue to improve and the fiscal cliff -- whether we go over it or not -- fades in our memories.