You might be in trouble if you look to Wall Street analysts to help you anticipate how this year’s upfront ad sales season will play out. In reports out this morning, Jefferies’ John Janedis predicts it will be “weaker than a year ago,” while BMO Capital Markets’ Daniel Salmon expects it to be “stronger than ever.”
Janedis sees a 2% decline in the upfront dollars spent on TV to $18.2 billion, with broadcasters down 3% and cable down 1%.
He holds that the multi-year drop in TV ratings will take a toll. Up to now, networks paradoxically have been able to raise the price they charge for each viewer reached, arguing that the diminishing supply of eyeballs makes each pair more valuable.
That will “start to moderate” this year, the analyst says. In addition, “the shift of dollars back to TV from digital has moderated.” Last year the return of dollars to TV from digital accounted for about 4% of the increase in total upfront sales.
What’s more, some of the biggest TV advertisers “could come under pressure” this year. Retailers are grappling with the shift in sales to e-retailers led by Amazon. Meanwhile, food & beverage and household products companies are cutting costs.
Janedis sees as much as a 6% drop in their collective ad spending, which could translate to a loss of $620 million.
Fox could be among the hardest hit: The analyst sees a 5% drop following a 13% drop in ratings for its target 18-49 audience. NBC should lead the pack, but still with a 2% drop in sales with ratings down 1%.
Janedis sees ABC slipping 4%, with CBS down 3%. The CW could be up by a mid-single-digit percentage “but that compares to a 15% increase last year,” he says.
In cable, Scripps Networks, AMC Networks and Time Warner should see some of the biggest increases, he says.
Salmon sees things differently as traditional TV networks bring “increasingly dynamic pitches to agency media buyers” with targeting initiatives including Viacom, Fox, and Turner’s OpenAP alliance.
“Does this sound like a dying marketplace to you?” he asks. “No, us either.”
Linear TV, he adds, “has settled back into a low-single-digit growth range following the surge that took place from mid-2015 to fall 2016.”
Last year the Olympics and elections “masked core trends” showing a shift of ad dollars back to TV from digital. But networks “that focus on the youth markets where digital dominates (e.g., Viacom) [will] find themselves back in heated battle, while those with older audiences and more live programming (e.g., CBS) remain better able to defend their budgets.”
Last week, in a forecast of ad spending for the entire year, Nomura-Instinet’s Anthony DiClemente said he expects “healthy growth in both volume and pricing” for the upfronts.
He notes, for example, that traditional TV companies will capitalize on problems at YouTube. Advertisers including AT&T, General Motors, Verizon, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson have cut spending there after seeing their ads attached to controversial content.
“If the brand-safety issues do in fact lead marketers and agencies to reallocate ad dollars to TV from digital, this year’s upfront could prove more robust than anticipated, which would be a positive directional indicator for media in 2017,” he says.
But this morning MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson says his channel checks show “a surprisingly high rate of continuing ad growth at Facebook and Google and, as expected, deep challenges at Twitter.”