The question is weighing on investors after media companies served up one disappointing TV ad sales report after another in last week’s barrage of Q2 earnings reports. Broadcast networks and stations “saw ad declines, and domestic cable networks experienced their slowest quarter since 2012,” Guggenheim Securities’ Michael Morris says today. He adds that in several cases “advertising trends came in below management’s initial expectations.”

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Some CEOs urged analysts to relax. Q2 was a quirk as advertisers diverted spending to the Winter Olympics in Q1 or the World Cup, which peaked in July during Q3. CBS, for one, is “now seeing pacing improve significantly here in Q3, both nationally and locally, and Q4 will be even better than Q3,” CEO Les Moonves said last week.

3 months
I mute my TV during commercials and I use my PVR. I think the advertisers are catching...

Still, some remain troubled. Morris says he has “yet to see evidence of an improving marketplace.” He wonders whether advertisers are responding to the decline in the number of viewers who watch live TV. He notes, for example, that Acura doesn’t plan to buy primetime ads on broadcast TV for its biggest marketing campaign yet — the introduction of the TLX luxury sedan. Proctor & Gamble also is cutting its budget for TV ads.

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“This was no boating accident,” MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson says– recalling the classic line from Jaws when oceanographer Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss) told the folks on Amity Island that a swimmer had been killed by a shark. Digital video platforms including YouTube and Yahoo are “taking 3% to 5% out of TV budgets,” the analyst says. While he expects “some renewed vigor” in TV ad sales for the rest of this year, “we think the issue of (and debate over) weak ad demand is now front and center for investors and analysts.”