Nobody delivers the pro-broadcast network message more effectively than CBS Chief Research Officer David Poltrack. But he was far more bullish than usual today at his yearly industry forecast during the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference. He says the broadcast networks are in for a great 2012 with ad sales up 7.3% — and not just because of the quadrennial effect. Even without the impact of political spending and the Olympics, broadcast sales would be up 5%, he says. That’s partly due to a pickup in the economy. “We remain confident that we’re on the road to recovery,” although he isn’t so sure about the pace, he says. The biggest drag on the economy, he says, is government spending cuts. “This is also what is keeping the unemployment rate so high,” he says.
But he also expects broadcasters to begin winning back some of the $1.6B in ad dollars that have migrated to cable. He says that the move toward cable was largely driven by the growth in the number of channels, and that “has run its course.” Meanwhile, technologies that encourage time shifting — including DVRs and VOD — disproportionately help broadcasters. DVR time shifting has helped boost the major networks’ audience share to 45% from 43%. For example, Modern Family gains 8M viewers from time shifters — that’s the largest playback audience — while NCIS gains 5M. He’s also encouraged that viewers are starting to accept ads on VOD; CBS saw 70M VOD views of its primetime shows during this year’s premiere week, up 19% from last year. And the network is warming to digital audiences: “The value of an online viewer is surpassing the value” of traditional TV viewers, he says. “This is a significant tipping point.” CBS.com attracted 7.5M unique visitors in premiere week, up 50% vs last year. What’s more, he says that recent research shows that broadcast ads are more effective than cable in generating sales. That “should shift the momentum back to the broadcast networks” in discussions with advertisers, Poltrack says.