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Broadcast TV Advertising Spending Jumped 13% to End 2015

9% overall growth in Q4

Adele Live in New York City helped drive broadcast ad spend in December. Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Broadcast TV ad spending went into 2015 like a lamb but came out like a lion. New data from Standard Media Index indicates that while broadcast TV ad spending was down 3 percent in 2015, it jumped 13 percent in the fourth quarter, buoyed by a strong scatter market.

In the findings from SMI, which tracks 80 percent of national ad spending from global agencies, overall TV spending was up 9 percent in the fourth quarter but remained flat during 2015 and was down 3 percent compared to last December. All media sectors except for magazines were up in the fourth quarter.

The biggest fourth-quarter gains came early—October was broadcast's best advertising month since January 2014. December spending was up only 1 percent over December 2014. But even as spending dropped off later in the quarter, December was buoyed by programs like Adele Live in New York City, which was the biggest music special in 10 years.

"We saw a lot of advertisers front-load that early part of the quarter in order to try to capitalize on holiday season," said James Fennessy, SMI's chief commercial officer. "And some of that softness in December is really people just washing through their audience deficiency units ... after a very strong October and November." 

Local/MSO cable spending increased 17 percent last quarter and was up 4 percent over last December thanks to an influx of political advertising. "We're seeing a lot of that advertising come that wasn't around this time last year," Fennessy said. "We obviously see that really beginning to pick up over the course of the next couple of months as things heat up in some of those battleground states."

Digital advertising continued to soar, jumping 35 percent in the quarter, 26 percent for the year and 34 percent versus the previous December. The biggest gains were from social media sites (94 percent growth in the fourth quarter and 71 percent growth in 2015) and video sites like YouTube (77 percent growth for the quarter and 52 percent growth for the year). "The major networks, particularly on the video side, are getting better at making more inventory available and being able to finally monetize those audiences," said Fennessy.

Even newspaper ad spending was up 14 percent in the fourth quarter and 7 percent in 2015. Magazines were hit hardest, down 1 percent in the quarter and 5 percent in 2015.

"One of the things we saw was the fantasy leagues really made a major contribution to the success of broadcast in particular in Q4, and a very robust NFL season has really helped those big three networks deliver a very strong result,"  said Fennessy. "So, I think fantasy leagues, football, a strong start to the broadcast year have all kicked things off on a very positive note, and we think that will continue, particularly with the political advertising coming through. So, we're looking at Q1 being pretty strong."

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