Millions of Americans forced to shelter at home are tuning in more TV. But in April many advertisers did not.
Ad dollars allocated to national TV fell by 26.7% in April of this year to $2.7 billion, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending, one of the first tangible estimates of how severely the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has affected one of the nation’s most popular mediums. SMI says ad revenue for broadcast television fell 33.4% to $907 million in April, while ad revenue for cable TV fell 24.8% to $1.66 billion. Syndicated TV, however, managed to snare new ad dollars, with revenue rising 12.1% to $140.2 million.
“The TV ad market in April was impacted by a perfect storm of events, with millions of Americans going on unemployment, stay-at-home orders hurting a number of advertising categories, the loss of top rated live sporting events and studios shutting down their production facilities,” said James Fennessy, CEO of Standard Media Index, in a statement. “There has never been such a calamity occurring all at the same time.”
SMI estimates that advertisers of travel services cut spending by 94% in April, the most in any category. Retail ad dollars were down by 46%; restaurants cut ad spending by 41%; and entertainment and media companies reduced ad spend by 38%, largely due to a lack of new movie releases to promote. Automotive marketers cut ad spending by 64% and technology advertisers reduced spend by 30%, SMI said.
One of the chief factors in the decline was the loss of sports. SMI estimates advertising committed to TV sports fell 72% in April, with $240 million lost due to the suspension of the NBA’s season; $200 million lost due to the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball championship; $40 million due to the NHL’s suspended season; $30 million due to scuttled golf tournaments; and $25 million due to the suspension of Major League Baseball’s current cycle.
SMI uses data from invoices from many media-buying agencies and works with five of the seven major companies involved in the industry, which accounts for 70% of the national TV marketplace.
Advertisers pulled back on scripted comedies and dramas, with SMI estimating ad revenue fell as much as 50% behind some regularly scheduled programs. In April, the most ad dollars were generated by Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”
Madison Avenue, however, stuck by news programming. According to SMI, ad revenue for all news programming on broadcast TV rose 5.5%, with ad spending behind CBS news programs up 20%, ad spending behind ABC news programs up 5% and ad spending behind NBC news programs up 3%. Ad prices for CBS news programs tend to be at the lower end of the spectrum, owing to the lower ratings those shows have compared to their rivals on NBC and ABC.
Ad spending behind cable-news networks was off 1.6%, according to SMI. Marketers seemed interested in Fox News’ weekday primetime schedule, according to SMI, with ad spend behind those programs up 65% compared to the year-earlier period.