Shorter TV blurbs ahead

NEW YORK — If it’s December, this must be the time for annual predictions of the coming year, and the first prognosticator out of the gate sees a rosy future for most of the TV business.

The Myers Consulting Group also predicts rapid expansion of 20-second commercials, which now represent less than 1% of all TV spots but will become “dominant” by 2005, representing 45% of all commercial time.

Overall, Myers expects 7% growth in media spending next year, and an average compounded annual growth rate of 10% through 2005.

The major broadcast networks, despite steady share erosion to cable, will remain strong gainers in absolute ad spending, Myers said, “because of their leverage in delivering the largest concentrations of audience reach and attractive mass-viewing franchises.”

On average, network ad revenues should increase 6.6% a year, to $23.2 billion by 2005, the report says, pegging NBC to retain its top spot but Fox to gain the lead in the 18-49 demo by 2005.

But the broadcast networks’ share of the total ad pie will fall to 20% by then, from 25.9% in 1996, as other media enjoy faster growth rates.

Among those other media are basic cable networks, expected to remain the fastest-growing national media, with annual increases averaging 17.2%, to $18.5 billion by 2005. “By early in the next decade, basic cable networks will achieve parity with the major broadcast networks both in terms of advertising cost-per-thousand and audience reach,” the study boldly predicts. Currently, even the top-rated cable networks considerably lag behind their broadcast counterparts on both fronts.

Syndication revenues should grow at a 10.6% annual rate, reaching $5.4 billion by 2005, as media-buying technologies improve the effectiveness of syndication buys. But spot television will erode as an ad buy, growing at less than 5% annually and suffering the highest share drop-off of any national media, declining to 12.8% of total ad spending by 2005 vs. 20% last year.

The shorter commercial lengths, based on a survey of 330 marketing execs’ predictions, reflect the survey’s finding that 12% of those advertisers, primarily in package-goods fields, are considering greater usage of the shorter spots, seen as more cost-efficient.

For traditional 30-second spots, the average price for the top 20% of network series will rise from $388,000 last season to $1.6 million in 2005, the survey said, while the top-rated sitcom and drama will command $2.5 million a spot, nearly five times the current rate.

Among non-TV media, consumer magazines should grow 10% a year, to $28 billion by 2005; national ad spending on newspapers will climb 7% or more a year, to $7.8 billion; and radio will be up 7.4%, to $5 billion, Myers said. Online advertising, with specific growth hard to predict, will nonetheless “be embraced as a mainstream advertising medium,” the report says.

The next batch of predictions are due with next week’s PaineWebber conference on media and advertising, where at least two more soothsayers will deliver their own analyses.

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