Following The Future Of TV Ad 'Futures' Market

On the same day most U.S. stock market indexes fell by spectacular levels -- almost 5% or more on Wednesday on most market indices -- two of the most prominent executives of media companies that owned TV networks said national TV advertising appeared strong.

Feeling good yet?

Both News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch and CBS Corp.'s Les Moonves said not only were there few cancellations of season-long advertiser deals that were made back in June in the so-called upfront advertising market, but that, according to Moonves, fourth quarter scatter advertising sales -- a more recent indicator -- continued to be "strong."

One can only hope that Wall Street investors continue to see TV's upfront process -- to put it in their terms -- as a "futures" market. But what exact timetable can we give this hope?

There is more to go to get a better picture. For the first quarter, TV advertisers get a shot at cutting back 25% of their upfront buys for the period; then there's a 50% cancellation rate for buys in each of the second and third quarters.



Murdoch and Moonves may be upbeat, with "strong" being a relative term. There are other factors, including how much inventory has been sold in the period -- which, if the period has been well sold in the upfront, would only raise CPMS on just a handful of inventory, not pointing to overall revenue growth.

And there is this: Media executives say there has indeed been a softening in the short-term scatter markets ever since the spring. "No one has turned me down yet when I asked about availabilities," says one executive, about the current fourth quarter scatter market.

If this is a weakening economy/recession with even more pain to come, as some experts have predicted, that "futures" market moniker may be short-lived this time around.

Local stations may provide a better read on TV advertising. Nielsen says spot TV is up just a couple of percentage points for the first half of the year so far -- all while 2008 is supposed to be a big political and Olympics year, the type that used to grab double-digit percentage increases.

We have another six months to go, with some advertising yet to launch in local TV markets. If things continue to underperform, the best we can hope for is that local TV will be viewed as an "in-the-rear-view-mirror" market indicator.

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