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Viacom Posts Q1 Ad Sales Gain

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A strengthening scatter market and improved ratings at MTV helped Viacom get over the hump in the first quarter of 2010, as the media conglomerate reported an increase in ad sales revenue for the first time in nearly two years.

Viacom on Thursday reported that domestic ad sales grew 1 percent from the year-ago period, adding that the improvement in scatter was somewhat undermined by dint of the enfeebled 2009-10 upfront base against which pricing increases are measured.

The 1 percent gain in stateside ad revenue was in line with previous estimates from Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente. The last time Viacom posted a gain in ad sales dollars was in the second quarter of 2008, shortly before the global economy began falling to pieces.

While Viacom does not break out its Q1 domestic ad sales figures, worldwide ad revenues grew 3 percent, to $960 million. All told, revenue at the networks division rose 4 percent to $1.94 billion. Operating income grew 9 percent to $684 million.

“With a boost in ratings at our core networks and the advertising market showing signs of strength, our ad revenues moved into positive territory and are continuing that upward trend,” said Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom. “MTV... not only delivered its highest-rated quarter in nearly two years, but also five of the top 15 original cable series in its target demographic [viewers 12-34].”

Dauman also singled out Nickelodeon and BET for their respective ratings performance.

MTV saw its nightly deliveries improve 6 percent in the quarter, averaging 920,000 total viewers in prime. Spurred by popular series such as Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant, the network also finished third in Q1 among viewers 18-34, improving 3 percent to 451,000 members of the demo.

The last time MTV posted prime-time ratings increases was Q2 ‘08––the same period in which Viacom reported its most recent domestic ad sales gains.

Nickelodeon remained No. 1 in total day, averaging 2.34 million total viewers, a gain of 4 percent versus Q1 ‘09, and the kids’ net also saw low-single-digit growth among its core demos. Meanwhile, after going on a tear in 2009, growing its prime-time deliveries by 23 percent, BET settled into a groove, upping its Q1 average by 1 percent to 763,000 viewers, while lifting its 18-49 average by 3 percent.

Ratings continued to slide at some of the other key Viacom nets, as VH1 dropped 25 percent in prime to 640,000 total viewers, while losing 27 percent of its 18-49 deliveries. TV Land fell 21 percent to 699,000 viewers, a drop that coincided with the loss of 12 percent of its adults 25-54 demo.

Q1 ‘10 was a more subdued affair for Comedy Central, as the network dropped 14 percent to 915,000 viewers, while Spike TV saw its nightly deliveries fall 17 percent to 982,000.

On Wednesday, Comcast reported that its network ad sales were up 6 percent in Q1.