Before The Fall: TV Economy's Late Summer Questions

Like some unpredictable wave, is the TV economy's tide rolling in, moving out to sea, or just seeking its own new level?

In a few weeks, when fourth-quarter scatter money starts to flow -- or not -- the real test will begin. If there is real money there, all this means historical trends have proven to be true again.

Media sellers say all indications point there. They say third-quarter scatter business is well above that of the third-quarter scatter business of a year ago. CBS Corp. has said the ad market has definitely turned around in the late second quarter -- and definitely in the third-quarter -- reporting periods.

ESPN ad sales chief Ed Erhardt has touted that business continues to flow in steadily, and higher, for NFL and college football versus a year ago in this scatter period.



TV programmers -- broadcasters, cable, and syndication -- are betting that increased pricing during the scatter markets -- and more importantly, increased volume -- will make up for the upfront's down-back activity.

Looking at some recent financial results, the only media companies that have seen significant ad sales increases have been Google, Discovery Communications, and National CineMedia -- this according to Bernstein Research analysis.

This media equation is: A big Internet player, a mid-size traditional TV company, and a niche cinema media company. To me, it shows that there are some 'green shoots' -- but certainly not a widespread, fast-growing forest of improving media sales activity.

Here's what has really changed -- probably for the long term: TV marketers are making deals closer to air time -- almost, it seems, regardless of potential price hikes. So, scatter may be up in the fourth quarter, but maybe down in the first and second quarters. What you might have is a healthy dose of instability.

Historically, negative-performing upfront markets always preceded higher, more vibrant TV scatter markets. But what if -- for the first time in perhaps anyone's memory -- that doesn't happen? What if scatter is down, just like the upfront?

U.S. business has seen massive restructuring over the last year and a half -- also going against some time-honored historical trends. But the TV business market -- apart from local TV stations -- has been relatively unscathed in terms of its overall operations.

New TV ad sales ground seems destined to be broken -- somewhere.

1 comment about "Before The Fall: TV Economy's Late Summer Questions ".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, August 14, 2009 at 11:10 a.m.

    TV is a tough business. Not as tough as print. But the fragmenting of the audiences make showing commercials almost like digital ad serving now. And with DVR' for the hills.

    I see this weird reverse yield curve with TV. As audiences get smaller per channel and with so many other activities taking up our time, still nothing beats the 30 second commercial for telling the story. So brands will pay more per CPM sometimes because of the value of reaching the folks that do see the spots. Problem is Media/Brands were spoiled for so long with semi-captive massive audiences and feel they deserve the same level of exposure even though the world has changed.

    Media companies messed up relying on ad support vs pay for content ecosystems. People have no idea how spoiled they were from this. True pay TV with no ads would cost about $8 per 110minutes (average first run movie price). Try multiplying that rate x the average weekly TV viewing hours per person! But they have no idea how much better the programming would be on for a Pay for Content ecosystem. And people would stop using the Tube as a baby sitter. I bet folks would glaldy watch every commercial knowing the 'baby sitter' was staying Free!

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