Attack of the Stats: Nielsen Says Spot TV Revs Down, Others Disagree

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Is spot TV advertising doing that well? Not according to The Nielsen Company, which has TV station executives complaining.

In a report issued early this month, The Nielsen Company says TV spot revenues were down 3.25% through the first half of this year to $10.3 billion -- findings that conflict with many other media research reports, as well as TV station group earnings reports -- with the latter two showing revenues generally pacing up around 20% or more versus a year ago.

Recent TVB analysis of Kantar Media's data has spot TV ad dollars up 24.4% through the first six months of the year to $6.9 billion. This data looks at the top 100 markets, representing 86% of U.S. TV homes.

TV station group executives and the TVB, the television station group association, have complained to Nielsen, which said there have been no errors.

A statement from Nielsen to MediaDailyNews said: "In response to inquiries from the TVB, we reviewed the work that went into the report and have not found any internal discrepancies. We continue to have discussions with the TVB to see why we reached different conclusions and are hoping to meet with them soon."

Steve Lanzano, president of the TVB, says: "There is a real problem with the numbers, and they need to look at their methodology. How can they be off by 30%?"

While spot TV is down, Nielsen in the report did say other TV areas continue to grow: Cable network television rising 13% to $9.1 billion; broadcast network television climbing nearly 9% to $11.5 billion; and national syndication television adding 1% to $1.1 billion. Spanish-language broadcast network TV is the biggest growth category of any medium: 24.2% higher to $1.6 billion.

Nielsen does restate its data from time to time -- but mostly for its TV ratings, sometimes stemming from live TV programming and time zone issues. Lanzano doesn't recall a time when Nielsen was so off in its television advertising estimates.

TV station groups say strong returning dollars from automotive, financials and other ad categories have strongly lifted local TV ad revenue results this year.

TV/media companies such as E. W. Scripps, Meredith Corporation, LIN Television, Fisher Communications Group, and Gannett Company witnessed second-quarter revenues anywhere from 20% to 27% higher versus the same period a year ago. More recently, Media General said it grabbed nearly 20% more broadcast television revenues in its third-quarter reporting period.

A recent report from New York media investment firm M.C. Alcamo said 15 different kinds of media companies -- seven "pure play" TV station groups -- witnessed an average of 16.7% improvement in revenues to $692.4 million during the second quarter.

Eight "integrated" media companies -- those that also have non-TV interests, magazines, newspapers, and radio, for example -- have seen revenues climb by 9% in the second quarter of 2010 versus a comparable period in 2009.

Overall, 15 media companies posted a 12.1% gain to $1.6 billion in the second quarter of 2010.

Considering the severe economic problems that TV stations had a year ago -- when ad revenues sunk by 20% to 30% -- Nielsen's estimates can be seen as placing a question mark on TV stations' current advertising sales efforts.

"You want to show how strong your medium is," says Lanzano. "This can put you at a competitive disadvantage."

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