Linear TV Ad Revenue, Muffled by Covid-19, Projected to Dip 16% in 2020

Q2 was national TV ad sales' worst quarter on record, according to Magna

Linear advertising will be helped along by record-level political ad spend later in the year. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: iStock, Getty Images
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the advertising industry will both go down in history. In the second quarter of the year, national television advertising saw revenues drop 30%, its worst quarter ever, and linear media ad sales were down by a whopping 38% in the quarter, according to a new U.S. advertising data from Magna.

The report, released today, helps quantify the extent of the damage of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on the advertising industry after media executives, bracing for the effects of cancellations of advertising windfalls like live sports and the Olympics, warned in the first quarter that the worst was yet to come. By comparison, the 2008-2009 financial crisis only resulted in an 8% decline for national TV advertising sales in a comparable quarter.

But there are signs of optimism: Ad spend is expected to stabilize in the second half of the year as businesses reopen, some consumer spending returns and as upcoming elections prompt record-level ad spending, said Vincent Letang, Magna evp and managing partner of global market intelligence.

“The macroeconomic environment is getting a little bit better, and some delayed consumption is likely to happen in Q3 and Q4,” said Letang, who authored the report. “And the return of sports on television is going to help. For all these reasons, the second half will be better than the first, which will mitigate the full-year decline.”

The first half of the year, unsurprisingly, wasn’t pretty for linear media. Linear ad sales, which includes linear TV, radio, out-of-home and print, declined by 23.1%, with print and radio both down 33%, out-of-home falling 22% and on-screen cinema advertising plummeting 63.6%. National and local television ad sales both saw 19% drops, with the delayed upfronts helping to lock in some advertising revenues and political ads buoying local TV ad sales.  

Digital ad sales were up slightly at 5.7% in the first half of the year and flat in the second quarter, reflecting the resilience of the medium, especially as marketers continued some lower-funnel efforts. Facebook, YouTube and Amazon all saw U.S. ad sales grow in their second quarters, with Amazon-owned streaming video platform Twitch growing a whopping 52% in Q2, though search advertising recorded its first decline ever, down 3% in the quarter. Because of the sheer size of digital advertising, which comprises about 55% of the U.S. ad market, overall advertising revenues fell by only 7.2% in the first half of the year.

Magna predicts declines will stabilize in the second half of 2020. Media owners’ net advertising revenues, which include all media, linear and digital spend, are expected to decline by 4.6% to $213 billion in 2020 overall. Advertising sales are projected to decline by 2% in the second half of the year, compared to the 8% decline in the first half.

Linear ad sales will still face the worst outcome, Magna said, with full-year sales expected to decline by 16% to $81 billion by year’s end. Digital advertising sales are projected to grow by 4.2% to $133 billion, and digital video, driven by YouTube and Twitch, will grow 12%. Social media sales are expected to grow by 11%, and search will end the year with 3% growth, primarily due to the increase in ecommerce marketing throughout Covid-19.  

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.