First-Quarter Ad Spending Comes in Flat

Broadcast TV Declines Partly Because of Prime-Time Ratings Erosion

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Marketers spent $30.2 billion on ads in U.S. measured media during the first quarter of this year, a slight drop of 0.1% from the same period a year ago, according to data released today by Kantar Media.

The cool start comes after 2012 finished with a 3% uptick in ad spending, much of which came from advertising around the Olympics and political campaign spending -- two forces that aren't returning this year.

"It has been a lackluster start for 2013, with flat year-over-year results due in part to strong 2012 growth caused by political and Olympic ad spending," Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media North America, said in a statement. "Data from the early second quarter are mixed, suggesting marketers are still being cautious and conservative with ad budgets. However, there are some bright spots, including healthy growth for Hispanic media and outdoor."

TV ad spending from January through March climbed by just 0.3% from the same months with last year, Kantar Media said. Spanish language TV led the way with a 13.5% jump in ad spending, its its seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.

Cable TV also saw a notable boost in the first quarter, with a 5.2% increase. Losers in the category were spot TV (down 2.4%), syndication (down 1.1%) and broadcast TV (down 5.2%).

Hispanic magazines' print advertising leapt 12% while general-market consumer magazines' print advertising increased 1.8%. Local magazines fell 5.7%, followed by business-to-business magazines, down 4.1%, and Sunday magazines, down 3.7%.

Newspaper spending declined 4%, with national newspapers falling 9.2% and local papers dropping 3.3%. Hispanic newspapers provided some relief to the category, with a 1.4% increase.

Spending on outdoor media climbed 4.3%, Kantar Media said. Radio spending fell 1.7%.

Kantar Media excluded online display advertising from its latest report due to changes in its methodology but said it will return the category for the second quarter.

Despite the overall drop in ad spending, 6 of the top 10 advertisers increased their outlays in the first quarter, according to Kantar. AT&T led the way with a 27.5% boost in measured media spending, while L'Oreal's ad spending climbed by 25.2% and Procter & Gamble, the nation's biggest advertiser, saw a 9.1% increase.

Comcast's ad spending fell by 17.5%, according to the report, the steepest decline of any of the top 10 advertisers. The cutbacks came mostly from movie studios, which had fewer major releases compared with last year, Kantar said.

Spending for the 10 largest ad categories grew 1.3%, according to the report. Automotive, the top category with $3.4 billion in spending, declined 0.5% from the quarter a year earlier. Manufacturers' ad budgets fell 3.3% mostly because there were fewer marketing launches in 2013, the report said. Dealer spending climbed 3.7%.

Retail, the second-largest category with media spending of $3.2 billion, rose 0.5%. Telecom posted the largest growth among the top 10 with a 10.1% increase to nearly $2.1 billion.

Direct response ads saw the biggest decline among the top categories, falling 11 % to $1.4 billion.

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