Ad Market: A Bleak Scatter Season and Beyond

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Last Tuesday, Myers Reports Inc issued a revised ad-spending forecast that painted a dismal picture for various segments of the media through 2005.

Apparently, it wasn't dismal enough for chief executive Jack Myers. Just days later, he said that the figures released by the company didn't properly reflect the depth of the ad-spending downturn, and that he would make new projections — perhaps as soon as this week.

Those gloomy predictions by Myers, Veronis Suhler & Associates, Competitive Media Reporting and others hover over a beleaguered Madison Avenue, whose prospects have stalled in a sluggish U.S. economy. The ad market's weakness was manifested in the most recent retractions within the broadcast and cable TV upfront markets.

A report in The Wall Street Journal
last week pegged the upfront at $3.8 billion —down 20 percent from $4.8 billion the prior year. However, a number of network executives last week held fast to the $4 billion estimate of nearly a month ago.

Whatever the actual total, there's no doubt that upfront spending fell. Now, media sellers are bracing for a scatter season that could also turn out to be quite soft.

Lifetime Television executive vice president of ad sales Lynn Picard said the upcoming market will prove "challenging." While noting it's that it's hard to say how many advertisers have held back their dollars for scatter, she said she thought most prospects weren't that active in the upfront.

In any case, those buyers who held back won't get many scatter bargains, according to Picard.

"I don't think scatter will be lower than the upfront," she said.

Turner Broadcasting Sales executives said it's "way too premature" to discuss scatter until mid-to-late September, according to a spokesman.

"We made our upfront revenue budgets, so we didn't hold back a larger amount of inventory for scatter than we might normally do," the spokesman said.

Zenith Media executive vice president Peggy Green predicted that this fall, "the money may come in waves, that is, calendar-year, broadcast-year upfront, as well as scatter," depending on the accounts.

Myers took a more dire view of scatter landscape.

"There's just no action out there," he said.

Those comments are in line with Myers' increasingly bearish ad outlook overall. His most recent forecast estimated major-media ad expenditures would drop by 4 percent this year, rather than the 1.5 percent projected last May.

Myers said that network cable, local/spot cable and online advertising would notch the strongest ad-sales gains over the next five years, though growth rates would be lower than in prior years.

Local/spot cable should see double-digit jumps — 12 percent this year, followed by annual gains of 13 percent, 15 percent and 16 percent through 2004, then 15 percent in 2005.

Network-cable ad sales alone should pick up by 5 percent this year and again in 2002, Myers projected, followed by gains of 8.5 percent, 10 percent and 7 percent in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively.

But last Thursday, Myers was pondering another downward revision for network cable, citing various network executives who told him that 5 percent gains don't seem feasible for this year or next.

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