Media: Special Report

A standard assumption among prognosticators of media investment that presidential contests and the Olympics will “lift all boats” every four years. For media already on a roll—network TV, digital, out-of-home—the outlook for 2008 is, indeed, full steam ahead. But deep-pocketed White House aspirants and the overhyped, overprogrammed quadrennial games will do little to turn vessels running aground, forecasters concur.

While all media will likely benefit, at least marginally, from a flood of campaign bucks, it’s a sure bet that contribution won’t save struggling segments including newspapers (whose ’08 ad sales will remain stagnant, per PricewaterhouseCoopers), consumer magazines (projected to rise a less-than-robust 2.8 percent, as they continue to lose ad share and eyeballs to the Web) and radio (with an expected, anemic 1.4 percent bump).

Poor radio. As if it didn’t have enough troubles—five running years of flat ad business, bruising declines in key categories like retail, the slow-to-catch-on promise of HD—now comes the pending merger of Sirius and XM, threatening to siphon off more young demos and ad dollars.

A light at the end of the tunnel for “old media” continues to be digital. Radio’s non-spot revenue, of which online is a growing part, is driving the medium out of the negative column. Magazines, likewise, keep loving up to the Web—while it’s agreed they have yet to tap its real potential. And even as newspaper circ remains in free fall, Web sites from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other dailies continue to surge.

So, it looks like the old dogs are learning. Whether it will be enough in the face of diminishing auto budgets, a plunging housing market and scary prospects of a recession is of titanic doubt.

Tony Case

Editor, Special Reports