Updated: Weak Ad Market Helps Sink Viacom's Q4


That said, a number of other high-profile MTV Networks properties have fared particularly well of late. Comedy Central enjoyed a strong Q4, increasing its prime-time viewership by 15 percent to 1.2 million, per Nielsen ratings data. Nickelodeon also remains a powerhouse, beating all comers in total-day with 2.23 million viewers, a 4 percent improvement over a year ago.

Viacom saw domestic ad sales figures decline 3 percent, a downward trend that Dauman expects will continue to color Q1 '09 results. "It's clear that while we are in a more favorable media segment than most, advertising is likely to get worse before it gets better," he said.

In November, during the company's Q3 earnings call, Dauman noted that upfront commitments accounted for 70 percent of MTVN's overall ad revenue. With pullbacks affecting 12 percent of that business, MTVN has been working to offset the dollar drain with attractive pricing and package deals.

"Some of the people that are canceling are just taking a portion off the table, some are taking more," said Viacom chief financial officer Thomas Dooley, who added that many clients who have exercised Q2 options have returned to buy scatter inventory, the pricing of which "has held up pretty well, especially the closer to air time that you get."

Dooley noted that some clients have become emboldened by their competitors' reduced ad spend. "The more aggressive advertisers are actually coming to the table and putting more money into the pot," Dooley said. "They can really go after market share during this environment when they see their competitors pull out. It's a very interesting environment right now in the advertising world and people with strong capitalizations will take advantage of it."

This story updates an earlier post with additional details and Dooley's comments.