Advertising spending declined by just under 1% through the first three quarters of the year versus the same period last year, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research.

But while ad spending has dipped 0.6% overall, cable networks saw the most growth of any media category, climbing 8.4% over the same period last year.

Hispanic cable TV saw a 1.1% gain in the first three quarters, according to figures released last week.

Television overall showed the most growth among ad platforms, representing four of the top five media categories.

After a 6% dip through the first half of the year, network TV — thanks to a boost from Olympic broadcasts — worked its way back up to a slight growth, up 0.9%, through the third quarter.

The figures contrast with an earlier report from TNS Media Intelligence that indicated ad expenditures on cable networks were up 3.7% through three quarters of this year.

TNS cited cable's “limited exposure” to the 100-day strike by the Writer's Guild of America that extended into the first quarter this year, plus successful summer programming.

Broadcast network TV spending was up for the nine-month period, too, buoyed by spending around the Summer Olympics. The latter turned a six-month loss into a nine-month gain, with year-to-date expenditures up 3%, the firm said.

Despite the television gains, total spending across all media, including magazines, newspapers, radio and the Internet, was down 1.7 % from the 2007 period.

The whole sector is being dragged down by year-over-year losses by newspapers (down 10%) and radio (down 8.8%).

The biggest economic black cloud is still on the horizon: preliminary data from the fourth quarter indicates slackening of the overall advertising market.