The tech ad boom isn't going bust yet, but there are mixed signals for the second half of this year and for 1999.
Adscope, the leading tracker of technology print spending, reported first-half tech ad pages in tech and business publications increased 5.6% over the same period last year, to 133,901.5; estimated ad revenue climbed 11.5% to $1.7 billion.
While tech pages are rising, the growth rate was slower than 1997's full-year 7% gain. And not all tech publishers are benefiting from the increase.
CMP TOPS ZIFF-DAVIS
CMP Media displaced longtime leader Ziff-Davis as the biggest tech ad page seller as Ziff's pages plummeted 12.9% to 16,554 for the period. But CMP, too, was down, with pages dropping 3.1% to 17,794. No. 3 International Data Group, on the other hand, posted a 5.7% increase to 9,329 pages.
As technology spreads to the mass market and tech marketers shift more of their budgets away from computer publications, business media are posting significant gains in the category. While the top 10 tech titles dropped 7.9% in first-half ad pages, the top 10 business titles soared 24.8%, Adscope reported. The top three business titles are The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Time's business edition.
Microsoft Corp., the biggest tech spender in computer and in business titles, cut its tech pages 5.4% while doubling business pages. Similarly, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s tech pages dipped 3.5% but business pages soared 54.9%.
Tech companies use the business press to run trendy brand campaigns and reach tech purchase influencers. 3Com Corp., for example, launched a $20 million corporate brand campaign via Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, in April, paid for, in part, by slashing $10 million off computer press product ads.
MORE BRANDING ACTIVITY
And more are jumping on the brand wagon: networking leader Cisco Corp. this month launches its first global TV and print brand campaign, created by Goldberg Moser O'Neill.
Industry factors did hold total first-half ad spending in check: product delays, notably postponing till late June shipping Microsoft's Windows 98; weakness in Asia; moves by PC marketers to cut inventories; and efforts to cut costs to deal with slumping margins, overcapacity and slower growth.
"The second half is going to be challenging," but better than the first, said Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Lauren Rich Fine.
HOPES FOR A WEAKER ECONOMY
If the economy and stock market weaken, Ms. Fine said, tech publishers could pick up share as marketers pull back from brand campaigns and focus on their core market.
Timothy O'Brien, Ziff-Davis' chief financial officer, said he's "seeing a continuation of softness in the third quarter." But he's optimistic about major product launches planned for next year, including Windows NT 5.0.
Ziff-Davis could use such a lift. Hit by double-digit page declines at PC Week, Computer Shopper and PC Magazine, Ziff-Davis saw its total revenue fall 8% to $276.5 million in the second quarter, with net loss at the newly public company quadrupling to $76.6 million.
Revenue comparisons were affected, though, by Ziff-Davis' move this year of two trade shows back to the first quarter and the spinoff of two Macintosh titles last fall. Consumer magazine and Internet revenues grew strongly.
CASH FLOW DECLINE
Mr. O'Brien noted cash flow--which Ziff-Davis contends is a more relevant measure than income--declined just 7%.
CMP, meanwhile, reported flat revenue of $126.1 million on net income of $3.3 million, down 48% from pro forma income last year. CMP recently trimmed 4.6% of its jobs. President Michael Leeds last month said recent tech ad weakness was "reminiscent of the occasional weakness" seen in tech cycles, and a spokesman last week said, "We have no current data . . . to support that there is a tech ad slowdown."
Copyright August 1998, Crain Communications Inc.