While many note the economy -- and the media economy -- seems on firmer ground now than earlier this year, more than a few experts are also predicting more pain headed for major media companies. Not just in 2009, but in 2010.
Stock market analyst Richard Greenfield of Pali Capital, for one, says he is lowering estimates for Viacom's 2010 U.S. ad sales to a downturn of 3%, from a previous estimated 2% increase.
While Nickelodeon has some constant viewer results year in and year out, Greenfield is worried about the fickle viewership of MTV Network, VH1, and Comedy Central, believing those networks will have a hard time hanging on to viewers -- which also means uncertainty about hanging on to advertisers' budgets.
Established broadcast and cable networks (and their associated parent companies) hope for better days ahead compared to some of their second quarter earnings results.
All are betting that by selling less inventory now -- for the upcoming season during the recent upfront ad market -- and more commercials later, they'll get higher pricing in the quarter-by-quarter scatter markets.
Of course all this optimism is based on estimates that they'll be able to grow -- or at least maintain their viewership.
Continuing the trend of recent history, broadcast networks again lost share this past season and this summer. Cable still climbs incrementally -- a growth that's getting harder for the bigger, more established cable network groups to maintain.
Viacom, in particular, has had a harder time of it -- and not just MTV Network. VH1 just cancelled two reality shows due to some real-life tragedies. Spike TV was down 27% in prime time in the second quarter among total viewers.
Nickelodeon remains the dominant player for kids' programming, But the current advertising market only looks good for Nick should it take more share from other players, since the kids' TV advertising market has also fallen on hard times.
BET is the only decent story -- up 44% in its second quarter total viewers in prime time to 859,000, and up 35% to 449,000 total viewers when it comes to its 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. time period.
But other big networks had it rough in the period. Lfetime was down 28% in prime time among total viewers; Hallmark was off 22%; MTV declined 14%; Sci-Fi Channel dropped 12%; TBS and Cartoon Network were each down 7%; and ABC Family lost 4%.
Many, no doubt, will improve. But cable is increasingly no longer immune to failure, as it was for decades. Despite the overall industry headlines, cable networks can get caught in their own viewer hurricanes.