It will take years before most ad sales will hit the peaks that TV stations saw in 2007, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Carl Salas says this morning in an industry report. Local businesses have been slow to increase their spending after the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009 — and now broadcasters must compete for those dollars against websites, social media, digital displays and other emerging media. Sure, stations will see some extra cash from retransmission consent deals with pay TV providers. But it won’t be a windfall: Major networks are demanding reverse compensation agreements from their affiliates, giving the national broadcasters much of the dough collected by the stations that they used to pay to carry their programs.
Owners of local stations won’t feel the pinch just yet. Station ad sales could grow as much as 16% in 2012 from the additional demand for time tied to this year’s Olympics and the spirited presidential election and local campaigns, Moody’s says. Profit margins for pure-play station owners also could rise to as much as 38.5% in 2012, from 33% in 2011. Salas says this could be a record year for Gray Television, LIN Television, Nexstar Broadcasting, and Sinclair Broadcast which own stations in battleground states. Yet underlying ad sales will only grow as much as 3%, partly due to improving demand from auto sellers and retailers. That sluggishness will become glaringly apparent in 2013. Most TV broadcasters have prepared for the possible downturn by reducing their debt, or refinancing so they won’t face major payouts until after 2014. Yet Moody’s says that Media General “remains one of the few broadcasters facing significant maturities in the next two years.”
Does this mean stations will start lining up at the FCC volunteering to let it auction the spectrum they control for wireless broadband services? Not necessarily. Salas says that stations may begin to rebound in a few years when more people have mobile devices that can receive digital transmissions directly from local broadcasters as opposed to the Internet.