A World Without Local Car Dealer Ads?

Autos No Longer the Top Individual Spender on Spot TV

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you feel like you've seen fewer ads starring a mustachioed man in a funny hat imploring you to c'mon down to Uncle's Joe's auto dealer for some great deals, you're probably right.

Local broadcast-TV revenue in the top 100 markets fell a whopping 27.6% in the first quarter, according to an analysis of TNS Media Intelligence data by the Television Bureau of Advertising. But what's hitting local stations particularly hard are troubled automakers. Spending in the automotive category fell a stunning 52.1% in the first quarter, TVB said.

For the "first time in memory," the group said in a statement, an automotive advertiser did not claim the top spot among top individual spenders on local, or "spot" TV.

Third-largest spender Chrysler-Cerberus spent 21% less on local TV in the first quarter; spending by fourth-largest Honda Motor Co. was down 23.8%; spending by sixth-largest Ford Motor Co. Dealers Association was off 43.6%; and spending by ninth-largest Toyota Motor Corp. Dealers Association was down 48.9%.

The two biggest spenders on local TV in the first quarter were Verizon Communications, which increased its spending on local TV by 13.9%, according to TVB and TNS, and General Mills, which increased spot-TV spending by 41.6% in the first quarter.

Even so, local stations could be gearing up to scratch even harder for ad revenue in their own region. The troubled economy has prompted many TV-industry executives to speculate that owners of TV stations might spend less time cuddling up to big national broadcast networks and instead look to emphasize local roots. By broadcasting local sports, weather and regionally relevant entertainment and information, they could become a more necessary source for the set-top-box-dependent couch potato. Indeed, the current digital transition could give local stations more impetus to launch more locally focused programming outlets via digital cable.

Network TV ad revenue fell only 4.8% while syndicated TV ad revenue rose 0.2%. Total broadcast TV revenue was down 11.9% during the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period a year before, resulting from the economy as well as the absence of ad dollars from political spending, the TVB said.

The numbers serve as a stark reminder as to who really has it the worst in what is shaping up to be the most roiled economy in decades. As advertisers hold tight to their dollars, TV sellers everywhere are suffering bruises, but local TV stations are taking it on the chin.

But in case you too keenly feel the void of strangely costumed pitchmen, you can always get your fix on YouTube.

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