The company's CEO Philippe Dauman said last month that domestic ad dollars wouldn't grow at the double-digit rate projected for the July-September quarter, and instead might come in at around an 8% increase.
Dauman went on to say the fundamentals of the ad market were strong and seemed to blame Viacom's altered forecast mostly on some program scheduling issues.
Wall Street wasn't buying it, however. Investors appeared to interpret his comments as a signal the ad market was on the brink of cratering. Viacom's share price took a dive the day and has dropped further since (as have many other media stocks).
On Wednesday, Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson actually offered a somewhat rosy prediction for Viacom versus other media giants, reducing a price target only from $51 to $50, partly because of a belief that its ratings will accelerate.
Scripps Networks, however, had an adjustment from $48 down to $40, and Discovery from $42 to $37.
Nathanson wrote that the scatter market has lost some strength, though there is variability by category and network.
"While we are still not ready to call an end to the ad cycle, we do concede that the signs are not encouraging and growth is slowing," he said.
There are also ample, well-documented macro-economic factors and Nomura has almost cut in half its forecast for GDP growth in 2011.
Yet, it's hard to imagine national broadcast or cable networks struggling to attract ad dollars at anywhere close to the level they did in early 2009 -- or really much at all. Maybe 12% growth will drop by a few points a la Viacom, but massive decreases would be a surprise.
And again, the key word that seems to get lost is growth.
Print may struggle mightily and radio may be an afterthought, but advertisers thinking TV will offer them a bargain now are off track.
Marketers offer no indications they believe TV's effectiveness is anything but robust. And, the prevailing strategy in a troubled economy now seems to be that cutting the advertising line item is misguided. So, the media mix might change, but TV shouldn't be impacted -- unless more money is moved into its bucket.
In the coming weeks, media companies will report results for the July-September period and Viacom presumably will deliver its below-forecast results. The general tone, however, should have CEOs at companies with national broadcast and cable networks expressing some caution about the ad market going forward - Wall Street seems to like the humility -- then offer up the type of results that would have most people thrilled when opening the next 401(k) statement.
And even as Greece roils Europe and consumers tighten their belts, the bet is those CEOs will offer the same pattern -- we're cautious, but we're up X% -- the next time they report results and the time after that and ...