Local TV Ad Spend Poised To Rebound

Although the fourth quarter is still a fuzzy picture, local television stations think that between the Olympics, political advertising, and a rebounding economy, 2004's signal is as clear as, well, HDTV.

Most of the fourth-quarter comparisons aren't all that rosy, mostly because the heavy political advertising in October and November 2002 didn't materialize this year. Several station owners have said in recent days that overall revenues would be down in the fourth quarter, although if you take out political revenues, the picture looks better. One such company - the Texas-based newspaper and TV station owner Belo - said last week that advertising revenues would be down in the high single digits, but would increase if political-ad revenue is excluded from the comparison. December's spot TVs were pacing about the same as last year, said Belo Chief Financial Officer Dunia A. Shive.

Belo expects a good first quarter, bolstered by an expected $3 million to $4 million from the five CBS affiliates it owns that will cover the Super Bowl. Belo owns the CBS affiliate in Houston, where the Super Bowl will be held in 2004. That compares to the $2 million in local station revenue Belo's four ABC affiliates earned when the network carried this year's Super Bowl.



And as for political advertising, Belo's locations carry both good and bad news for the station group. It owns stations in the states of Washington, Oregon, and Missouri, which are expected to be battlegrounds that are ripe for political advertising by both President Bush and his eventual Democratic challenger. But in Texas, where Belo's TV stations are big, there probably won't be much in revenues from political advertising, since it's a foregone conclusion that Bush will win his home state. Belo earned $50 million in political revenues in 2000 and $49 million in the off-year elections in 2002. Executives said it's difficult to predict what will happen in 2004.

E.W. Scripps' broadcast TV division expects to benefit from stations located in key states, including Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and the most contested four years ago, Florida. Its stations reach 10 percent of U.S. households and 22 percent of the electoral vote, Scripps said. It earned $35 million in political ad revenues in 2000 and $24 million in 2002.

Scripps will see a boost from the Summer Olympics, which is being carried by its three NBC affiliates. It could mean as much as $2 million in revenues, executives said.

Gannett, which owns 22 TV stations, is seeing some categories up in pacings in the fourth quarter (automotive, television, and financial) while others (retail, movies/home video) are down slightly. But Gannett also expects a big return from the 2004 political campaigns, as well as the Super Bowl and the last episode of "Friends," and the Olympics.

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