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BCFM Reports First Quarter Down 2% From Last Year

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NEW YORK ( -- First-quarter ad revenues at the big three broadcast networks slipped 2.07% compared with the same quarter last year, according to the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association, which releases figures compiled by auditor Ernst & Young on ABC, CBS and NBC.
Total ad revenues for the big three declined in the first quarter.

Total ad revenues dipped from $2.94 billion in the first quarter 2004 to $2.88 billion this year. Full-year 2004 -- which saw the Summer Olympic Games and was a presidential election year -- experienced a 12% increase in ad revenue for the big three to $11.7 billion.

Sports dropped 21%
The decline was heaviest in the sports category, which dropped 21% for the period year-on-year, from $692 million to $545 million, down $147 million. The decline may be accounted for by the Super Bowl, which was broadcast by News Corp.'s Fox, which does not provide numbers to the BCFM. Fox charged $2.4 million for a 30-second spot and ran approximately 60 spots, making the actual game worth an estimated $144 million in ad revenue.

CBS is a division of Viacom; ABC is part of Walt Disney Co., and NBC's parent is General Electric Co.

The networks saw some rare positive data on the broadcast news front. News programming saw ad revenues rise 12.43% from $129 million to $145 million. The broadcast news shows have been suffering ratings erosion at the hands of 24-hour cable news outlets.

A heavy news quarter
Mary Collins, president-CEO of BCFM, based in Northfield, Ill., said, "We had quite a few interesting events in the quarter: the Tsunami, the Terri Schiavo case, elections in Iraq and the pope's declining health." The quarter also saw strong viewer interest in NBC News' new anchor, Brian Williams, who took over from Tom Brokaw, and the departure of CBS News' longtime anchor, Dan Rather. Strong interest in news also appears to have helped the morning daypart, which grew 12% to $226.6 million. Segments losing ad dollars included late night, daytime and children's dayparts.

Prime time, which had previously seen two negative quarters, finally came out of the doldrums as ad revenue rose to $1.587 billion from $1.526 billion in the same period last year. According to BCFM, total net revenues show some year-to-year weakness at the main three broadcast networks, but still show an overall improvement on 2003.

A more accurate picture
The BCFM figures offer a more accurate picture of the financial health of the broadcast networks than do the predictions about upfront commitments by marketers, since upfront commitments can be canceled.

This year's upfront is predicted to hit between $9.2 billion and $9.5 billion. Last year the estimated haul of the six broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and Viacom's UPN and Time Warner's and Tribune Co.'s The WB) was $9.3 billion. Marketers also buy airtime year-round in the "scatter" market.

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