Sports, Spanish-lingo TV drive rise in media buys

Powered by live sporting events, network and cable outlets harvested healthy ad spending gains in the first quarter of this year.

Among advertisers, News Corp.’s marketing spend soared nearly 25% in the first quarter from a year ago, making it the biggest percentage gainer among top 10 advertisers even as some TV networks noted a dip in studio coin in the latest upfronts.

Spanish-lingo TV was particularly robust as automotive and packaged goods companies plowed more dollars into the sector, according to report issued Monday by ad tracking firm Kantar Media.

Total ad spending across all media rose 2.6% from the first quarter of 2011 to $32.9 billion, a modest rebound after a flat second half of 2011. After a slow start in January, business improved with February and March up an average of 4%. Cable inched past broadcast with a gain of 7.4% vs. 7%, but both were powered by sports programming. These trends set the stage for the healthy upfront market, which broke open earlier this month with most nets commanding high single-digit CPM gains compared to last year’s upfront.

Kantar cited the NCAA Men’s basketball tourney and NFL post-season games as accounting for more than two-thirds of the growth in advertising dollar volume on broadcast and cable channels. Content companies have been touting the value of sports in increasingly aggressive sparring with cable and satellite operators over carriage fees. It’s apparently hard to argue.

The media conglom spent $357.5 million across all media for the quarter. Time Warner spent 9% more, about $301.5 million.

Automaker General Motors reduced spending by 17.8% to $403 million, its seventh consecutive quarterly decline, Kantar said. The market is watching GM closely after it asked for major rollbacks — said to be as much as 20% — in the upfronts.

Kantar’s chief research officer for North America, Jon Swallen, noted improvement “trickling down to media that have been lagging the overall advertising market” like syndication and all types of Spanish-language fare.

Spending on Spanish-language television surged nearly 21% on automotive and consumer packaged goods spending. Spanish-lingo magazines soared 28% and even newspapers muscled up a 4.7% gain amid a prolonged slump in the broader print market.

All other magazines saw spending drop 4.2%. Local newspapers fell 3.9% and national newspapers by 7.7% on substantial falloff from financial services, travel and telecom.

Kantar said syndication budgets rose an impressive 15.7%, boosted by more hours of programming and higher ratings.

Spot TV saw a 2.5% increase year-on-year.

AT&T slashed its total spending and Verizon tapered off in the quarter as well. AT&T and have likely had been saving some firepower for marketing around the Summer Olympics.

Of the 2,811 Internet sites Kantar measured for at least a year, display spending fell 4.1% due mostly to fewer ads and offset in part by overall higher CPMs. The firm noted a big split between popular, high-traffic sites where spending was flat year-on-year and smaller sites, which saw declines.

Proctor & Gamble, with spending down 4.7%, was still the biggest advertiser for the period at $685 million; Comcast was second, up 4.3% at $483 million as it rolled out its Xfinity service. Toyota spent $329 million, up 8.6%.

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