May 2020 Report: Sports, Entertainment TV Experience Year-Over-Year Ad Revenue Losses, While Cable News Sees Gains

By A.J. Katz 

The absence of most live sports over concerns from the Covid-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to the television industry.

According to the Standard Media Index AccTV Report for May 2020, TV ad revenue for each week was up from March and April, but was still down 23% year over year to an average of $716.4 million each week, with cable TV dropping 24% to $446.6 million weekly and broadcast TV revenue falling 23.9%, to $234.9 million each week. National syndication TV was up 2.6% on average per week in May 2020 compared to the previous May, with $34.9 million weekly in ad revenue.

TNT and ESPN, which usually televise the NBA playoffs during the month of May, saw the biggest year-over-year drops among all major cable networks: TNT’s May ad revenue fell 70.4%, while ESPN dropped 58.7%. ESPN was able to generate some ad dollars from airing The Last Dance docuseries, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the revenue loss from the absence of its live sports properties.


Sports TV is in desperate need for ad dollars, and can’t wait soon enough for the MLB and NBA to return late next month.

With most live sports sidelined and Americans wanting to keep tabs on breaking news concerning the pandemic and the police brutality protests, advertisers are fully aware of increased interest in television news and seem to be shifting their ad dollars in that direction. At least that was true on an average weekly basis in May.

Adweek TV editor Jason Lynch writes, “News programming, meanwhile, saw a hefty national TV ad revenue increase in May, up 9.7% to $103.9 million weekly—double the sports earnings for the same month. That was mostly due to cable news ad revenue, which grew a whopping 21.4%, compared to broadcast news’ 1.1% increase. Fox News saw a 28.8% ad revenue bump, while CNN was up 26.7%.”

Sports is struggling, news is thriving, and most cable and broadcast networks are seeing mediocre results.

Lynch adds, “Among entertainment programming, national ad revenue for broadcast was down 24%, while cable fell 16.1%. In prime-time entertainment broadcast revenue, all five English-language broadcasters dropped more than 20%, but Univision actually had a 12.6% increase in ad revenue.”

So which brand categories are up and which ones are down? It might not surprise you to see that travel is struggling, whereas wellness improved.

In fact, according to SMI, travel plummeted 95% compared to May 2019, followed by automotive, which dropped 43%. Restaurant fell 32%, retail was off 29% and entertainment/media declined 28%.

Other categories saw more moderate year-over-year ad spend declines: apparel and accessories fell 18%, CPG was down 9%, tech dropped 7% and pharma also fell 7%.

Three categories, however, saw year-over-year gains: wellness was up 13%, financial services increased 7% and general business was also up 7%.