The "auto insurance" and "insurance" categories saw year-over-year ad spending up 15% and 27%, respectively -- to $96 million and $76 million.
Also up significantly was spending by fast-food restaurants (25% to $309 million) and movie studios (31% to $229 million).
The auto category continued to be the biggest spender in sports programming, even as its combined dollars declined 6% (to $582 million).
Fast-food was the second-largest, followed by wireless services (up a modest 3%) and beer (up 13%). Financial services and investment businesses -- the eighth-largest category -- decreased 30% to $104 million.
Overall, there is evidence that sports programming is better at weathering an advertising downturn than other content.
The top-10 categories spent an aggregate $2.2 billion in the first half of the year, up from $2 billion in the same period a year ago.
Nielsen data is based on rate-card information it obtains.
In separate data, covering brand recall "among avid sports fans" for just the month of July, the Nike brand scored the highest. Budweiser followed in second place, with McDonald's, Ford and Toyota rounding out the top five.
Nielsen pegs "avid fans" as anyone who rates themselves as a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 in a poll.
July included the high-profile broadcast of the baseball All-Star game.