National TV took an expected major decline in March -- down 12.8% to $3.8 billion, with the first quarter of 2020 sinking 5.4% to $10.8 million, according to Standard Media Index -- due to COVID-19 issues that forced major cancellations from TV marketers.
The scrubbing of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was a major reason for the March decline. A year ago, the big event pulled in $648 million collectively on broadcast network CBS and cable TV network group Turner.
This pushed CBS advertising revenues down by a massive 48% to $283.6 million.
NBC was down 7.6% to $317.8 million for the month -- remaining the top broadcast network overall.
But not all broadcast networks were lower: ABC and Fox witnessed advertising revenues up compared to the same month a year before -- 2.6% (to $271.4 million) and 3.7% to ($112.4 million) respectively.
Looking at cable TV networks for March, ESPN -- even without live sports (especially the NBA) -- was up 2.7% to $166 million, leading all cable networks.
But Turner’s TNT and TBS, which airs the March Madness NCAA men’s basketball tournament, took big hits. TBS sank 59% to $92.5 million (fourth place among all cable networks) and TNT, 29% down to $97 million (third place).
Still, there was good news for another Turner network --CNN’s ad revenue was 18.7% higher, reaching nearly $72 million (seventh place). CNN has seen a massive spike in viewership -- some of the highest-percentage viewing gains for any network.
One of CNN competitors also grew, but not as much. Fox News Channel posted a 4.8% gain -- $78 million for the month, coming in sixth place for all cable TV networks. MSNBC, was down 4.3%, to $36.6 million.
The biggest non-sports, non-news channel was Discovery’s HGTV dropping 5.9%, with just under $100 million. It remained in second place among all cable TV networks after ESPN.
Looking at the broader picture for the first quarter, broadcast TV was down 4% to $4.24 billion; cable TV sinking 7.3% to $6.16 billion while syndication rose 7.1% to $435 million.
Even without the NCAA Tournament, CBS remained the top broadcast network for national TV advertising -- up 3.2% to $478.9 million in ad revenue.
CBS was the only broadcast network to see gains for the entire first quarter. A major element of those higher results was overall higher political advertising for all of TV in the first three months of the year.
ESPN was up 6.7% to $587.3 million for the quarter. Well behind in second place was HGTV, down 3.8% to $244.3 million.
SMI primary data comes from the raw invoices of media agency holding groups -- five of the top seven groups, making up 70% of the national TV market. SMI’s AccuTV product models 100% of commercials in the TV marketplace across more than 125 networks.