August ads break record

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Despite fears of a prolonged recession, consumer media spending posted its fourth consecutive monthly gain in August, up 9.3% over the same month last year-and above the record spending for August 2000.

According to figures from Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, some media benefited from easier year-over-year comparisons, and a few showed real improvement. In August, magazines, network TV, syndicated TV, national newspapers and national spot radio were still below August 2000's numbers. Cable and spot TV rose considerably and continue to trend up, thanks largely to political and automotive spending.

The showing is the clearest signal yet that the ad market may well have hit bottom. "I think things are starting to come alive a little bit," said David Peeler, CMR's president-CEO.

August's consumer-media spending-excluding business-to-business magazines-was up versus 2000 for the first time this year. B-to-b publications remain a drag on total numbers, but they have cut the year-over-year decreases in every month this year, from a fall of 28.1% in January to a drop of 10.2% in August.

A large portion of August's upswing was due to cable and spot TV, up 22.1% and 4.2% over 2000, respectively. Total consumer-media spending year-to-date is still below 2000's numbers and only network, cable TV and Sunday magazines year-to-date are up over 2000.

TV gains

The August consumer media totals are "amazing," but the cable and spot TV totals can be attributed to the network-TV market, said Christopher Dixon, global media strategist at UBS Warburg. Tight inventories-especially at Viacom's CBS-are pushing advertisers to buy time on cable. Viacom's MTV is getting phenomenal numbers while Vivendi Universal Entertainment's USA and AOL Time Warner's TNT, TBS and CNN are doing well, he said.

"This is classic trickle-down pricing," said Mr. Dixon. "If you didn't participate in the network upfront, you were late to the party and spot is tight, so you go to cable."

At the same time, local spot TV is benefiting from the network trickle-down and the heated electoral campaign, said Mr. Dixon (see story, P. 3).

Indeed, most broadcasters reporting quarterly results in October noted local station revenue spiked, thanks to political spending. But they also noted that categories such as autos and entertainment were advertising heavily on local TV (AA, Oct. 21).

"I want to see if this is a sustained uptick," said Mr. Peeler, adding it's too soon to forecast what the first quarter of 2003 will bring.

Even with a compressed holiday-shopping season brought on by a late Thanksgiving and forecasts of lower holiday sales, the fourth quarter is expected to be stronger, said Mr. Peeler. Retailers will still advertise heavily, automotive spending remains robust and entertainment companies are expected to spend heavily, he said.

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