Radio Revenue Dips 10% in 2008

Radio ended 2008 with a 10 percent revenue decline to $16.5 billion. Factoring in off-air and network revenue, radio was down 9 percent to $19.5 billion, according to figures released Friday (Feb. 20) by the Radio Advertising Bureau.

It’s the third consecutive year of negative growth for a medium that has struggled to regain its place in the media mix.

Sadly, the declines of 2008 may look like the good old days compared to several Wall Street forecasts, which put radio down 20 percent or more for first quarter, and down 13 percent or more for the year. Bracing for one of the toughest ad markets in recent memory, radio groups, many of them overleveraged, have cut costs and staffs down to the bare bones. As for inventory, it’s a buyer’s market, making it difficult for stations to hold to rate cards.

Off-air revenue continues to be a bright spot for the medium, growing 7 percent in 2008 to nearly $1.8 billion. The RAB is forecasting the segment to reach $2 billion in 2009.
Network also bucked the general trend, coming in flat for the year at $1.15 billion.

Like other media, radio advertising hit its lowest point in fourth quarter. Local tumbled 13 percent to $3.2 billion, while national plummeted 14 percent to $735 million. Network radio, which has outperformed all other radio segments with positive growth, dipped 4 percent in fourth quarter to $298 million. Even off-air advertising, including online revenue, only managed to eke out a 1 percent increase to $444 million.

Much of radio’s revenue decline can be attributed to the medium’s top ad categories. Automotive ad spend, 15 percent of radio’s total revenue and the medium’s No. 1 ad category, declined 22 percent to $2.5 billion.

Spending among communications/cellular/public utilities companies, radio’s second largest category, was flat at $1.7 billion.

Some categories actually increased spending, including political, grocery and convenience and liquor stores, professional services, insurance and restaurants. Select retail categories (home improvement, department/discount stores and shopping centers) were flat.