The rosy prediction reflects growing strength in the economy, and in the performance of the broadcast TV networks, CBS Chief Research Officer David Poltrack told investors today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. He says that the growth figure would remain strong, at +4%, if you factored out the expected ad sales boost from the Winter Olympics. Don’t be too quick to scoff that Poltrack’s forecast may be colored by a conflict of interest: He’s had a pretty good track record in recent years, which is why so many people in the industry track his annual UBS presentation. He was right about on target last year when he predicted that network ad revenues this year would drop 2%, reflecting a 3% underlying growth rate when you factor out the 2012 Olympics and election. Economists “are encouraged by recent trends in the housing market as well as gains in private sector employment,” he says. “They see a continuing, but somewhat plodding, recovery.” But Poltrack is enthusiastic about the broadcast business — suggesting that this season may mark a transition to a period where networks will benefit from increased on-demand viewing, and excitement from people who use Twitter and other social media to chat with fellow fans. Last year “I concluded my presentation by posing the question, ‘Are we entering a new golden era for broadcast network television?'” Poltrack says. “Today I am going to try and convince you that the time may have come to drop the question mark.”
He’s particularly excited about Comcast and Nielsen’s just-announced test to insert up-to-date ads — that can’t be skipped — in older episodes of VOD TV shows. “Keep an eye on this initiative, it could be very big,” he says. Smartphones and tablets also can help expand opportunities for people to watch. To illustrate, he says that about 30.4% of all adults have viewed some of the first 11 episodes of CBS’ series Hostages — which he contrasts to the 8.7% that he believes watched any of the 13 telecasts of Netflix’ House Of Cards or the 7.9% that caught its 12-episode Orange Is The New Black. (CBS still lags, though, when it comes to loyalty: The average Hostages viewer only watched 3.3 episodes vs. 10.7 for Cards and 8.5 for Orange.) Hostages, which airs live against NBC’s hit The Blacklist, benefits from additional platforms: A little more than half of its audience watches live or same day while an additional 28% catch it within a week on a DVR, 8% see it on VOD, and 3% stream from the Internet.