Upfronts / Newfronts

Rising Ad Tide Lifts All Broadcast Boats, Even NBC

CBS Collected the Most 2010 Ad Revenue; Declines at Viacom's MTV and VH1

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NBC's ad revenue last year rebounded more quickly in percentage terms than any other broadcast network, while ABC's recovered slowest, according to a network-by-network breakdown of TV revenue by ad-spending tracker Kantar Media.

All five major broadcast networks saw ad revenue increase in 2010, a marked turnaround from the previous year when the recession sparked ad-dollar shortfalls at most TV outlets, Kantar data shows. Fox, NBC, ABC, CW and CBS took in approximately $21.7 billion in 2010, a 5.3% increase over 2009, when they captured about $20.6 billion in ad revenue, according to ad-spending tracker Kantar Media.

The figures quantify the improvement in TV's fortunes since 2009, when the recession crimped ad spending and all five broadcast networks as well as a majority of cable networks experienced ad-sales declines. In 2010, with auto marketers spending more freely and TV sports taking in steep premiums, the TV outlets got more wind at their backs. The numbers augur a robust "upfront" market this spring, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming fall season.

CBS, which secured the highest ad-revenue totals, saw ad revenue increase 8.2% to about $6.48 billion last year from $5.98 billion in 2009, according to Kantar. ABC's ad revenue increased 1.1% to about $5.12 billion from approximately $5.06 billion. Fox's 2010 ad revenue increased 2.2% to about $4.49 billion from about $4.39 billion, Kantar said.

NBC enjoyed the most dramatic rebound in percentage terms, seeing its ad revenue increase 9.1% in 2010 to around $4.82 billion from about $4.42 billion the year before, according to Kantar. Of course, the network's ad-revenue totals seem slighter in comparison to CBS and ABC, where ratings are more substantial and where the prime-time schedules have better-performing programs. NBC ad revenue had also fallen 17.7% in 2009, a sharper decline than those experienced at CBS, ABC and Fox.

The CW network saw ad revenue increase 3.8% last year, to about $613.2 million, from about $590.5 million in 2009.

In some analysts' minds, the Kantar numbers may be more reliable than other indicators of the TV economy. The Kantar data chronicles an entire year of advertiser outlays to TV, while other numbers commonly used to gauge TV's fortunes usually center on totals from the upfront.

The trouble with the upfront numbers? They represent only commitments, not cold, hard cash in the networks' coffers. And they are often wildly speculative, differing significantly from media-company balance sheets later on in the year.

The Kantar numbers are widely used in the media industry, though they are often taken as directional indicators rather than gospel. Analysts point out the data is often based on commonly available rates, when it's well known in the ad world that each deal is often founded on very specific terms. In some cases, ad pacts are discounted based on the volume an advertiser buys with the individual media outlet.

The industry's biggest cable networks, however, saw 2010 ad revenue increase even more, growing 9.7% to about $21.2 billion, while Spanish-language TV saw ad revenue increase 8.6% to about $3.3 billion, Kantar said.

The only major cable outlets to see ad revenue fall in 2010 were Viacom's MTV and VH1. MTV captured about $821.8 million in 2010, down about 2.1% from 2009's $839.2 million. VH1 notched about $485.6 million in 2010, down about 5.6% from 2009's $514.6 million.

In a recent conference call to discuss Viacom's fourth-quarter earnings, company executives pointed to such MTV shows as "Jersey Shore" and "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" as emblematic of increased strength at the network.

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