The Television Bureau of Advertising last week predicted TV ad spending will rise to $33.2 billion in 1994, a $400 million margin over newspaper's expected $32.8 billion.
The leading newspaper trade association disputes those numbers, but if accurate, it would mark the first time any ad medium has beaten out newspapers for the top spot.
As significant as that finding may be, the source is even more surprising. Instead of relying on McCann data, TVB's source for ad industry spending figures since the 1940s, it used Saatchi data for the calculations.
"We've been thinking about using the Saatchi numbers for some time," said TVB President Ave Butensky. "We think their numbers are better."
Mr. Butensky said TVB is evaluating whether to use Saatchi's data for long-term estimates, a decision complicated by the fact that all historical data are based on McCann figures.
But several ad industry analysts on Wall Street said they prefer Saatchi's numbers and forecasts, which have generally been more accurate than McCann's recently.
Speculation over whether someone might supplant McCann as the source for ad industry statistics began several years ago, largely because the agency has not developed a succession plan for Bob Coen, senior VP-director of forecasting.
Mr. Coen, 70, joined McCann in 1948 and began compiling the agency's ad data in 1950. He told Advertising Age last week: "I'd like to continue doing it until I am here 50 years, so that would be four more years."
He said he has not begun grooming a successor at McCann.
Mr. Coen essentially agreed with the Saatchi findings: "My guess is that the Saatchi figures and mine would be pretty close."
The Newspaper Association of America said it has not seen the Saatchi report, but forecasts a 6% rise to $33.9 billion for newspaper ad spending. That would give papers a margin of $700
million over TV for '94.
Christy Fisher contributed to this story.