Chase Carey: Weak TV Ad Sales Reflect Concerns About Economy

The Fox COO told analysts not to fear that TV ad sales and viewing are beginning a dangerous slide — which gained momentum this morning when Discovery said it could not anticipate a pick up from weak sales in October. Such concerns “are overblown, particularly in the short term,” Chase Carey said in a conference call. Ad pricing has “held up pretty well,” although he acknowledges that buyers have been spending less “due to a lack of confidence” in the economy. He rejects the growing view that traditional TV is starting to feel the effects of competition from Internet video platforms such as YouTube. To the extent that buyers are moving cash to the Web “it’s a pretty modest shift.”

He acknowledged that Fox shoulders much of the blame for its weak ratings in the new TV season. “We clearly had a difficult start” and rebuilding the schedule “will take some time… We know we have some work to do.” Nielsen also is partly responsible for the broad drop in ratings. Viewing on mobile devices is “not reflected in traditional network ratings.”

But Carey doesn’t buy the argument that people are cutting the pay TV cord and watching Netflix and other streaming services instead of the leading networks. “The traditional [pay TV] bundle offers great value to consumers,” he says. What’s more, it will continue to be popular for years – even though it’s “fraying at the edge” especially among Internet-centric millennials.  Consumers want more choices, but “it just might be a different bundle.” While recognizing that “we’re in a period of change…we truly look at this as a glass half-full opportunity” with content owners “in the sweet spot.”

Meanwhile the industry could use technology to help itself. Advertisers and distributors can “develop the capability to [offer] a more efficient and effective message,” for example by targeting messages to viewers. Even “giving them a choice between two ads makes them more engaged.” In addition, pay TV distributors should beef up their VOD platforms to attract viewers into an environment where they can’t zap ads, instead of turning to the DVR where they can.

Carey says that Fox won’t wait for others to act, but hedged when asked if it might offer a streaming service of its own — similar to the one that CBS recently introduced. Although the company is “looking at everything,” he added that he was “not implying that there’s anything imminent that we’re doing on our own.”

By the way, CEO Rupert Murdoch was not on the call with his shareholders, but did have time for his Twitter followers. “Big night for US Senate, control almost certain to change,” he tweeted. “Question is tight or big majority — say six?”


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