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Ad outlook: Brighter but still a long slog


Rupert Murdoch is onto something when he says the worst is over for the ad economy following its deep tumble in the wake of last fall's economic meltdown.

There are indeed some signs that the ad economy has hit the bottom and is in the early stages of recovery.

“Most media executives on earnings calls have been saying that the TV ad market is not getting worse,” notes David Joyce, an analyst with Miller Tabak.

“I’m very bullish on TV and radio,” says Dean DeBiase, CEO at TNS Media, the ad tracking outfit. “I think in certain categories we may be leveling out.”

But analysts are also quick to note that it's going to be a long recovery, not a quick spring-back, as some had hoped. While there are promising indicators, most think real recovery won't kick in for a year or so.

Further, some media just aren't going to come back, certainly not to levels of past years, notably newspapers and magazines.

What has analysts optimistic is the increasing activity in local television and radio, fueled in large part by lower prices, which in many cases are sharply down from a year ago, but also by stations chasing after first-time advertisers that couldn’t previously afford TV and radio.

“Certain media buyers are doing a good job of negotiating good rates,” says DeBiase. “They’re getting good placement, and they’re not necessarily paying as much as they used to. There’s opportunistic buying going on, which looks like an uptick, and it is.”

In fact, in some markets inventory on local TV stations and radio stations is starting to tighten up, with some sold out weeks in advance.

Media buyers say there’s also a sense among advertisers that the worst of the recession is behind us, as reflected in a pickup in consumer confidence in April.

Typically advertisers wait for consumer confidence to return before increasing their ad budgets, which is why the ad economy generally lags the overall economy.

But another positive sign can be found in the stock market, where most media companies are seeing their stock value starting to level out and in some cases trending up, as in the case of Cablevision and News Corp.

But these are early signs at best.

“Advertisers have to feel comfortable that consumers will respond to advertising. There are a number of factors behind that. It’s consumer spending. It’s consumer sentiment. It’s unemployment, too," says Mark Fratrik, vice president of BIA Advisory Services.

“My expectation is that we won’t turn positive until sometime in 2010. The comparables from the year before will keep us in negative numbers. But it will also take advertisers some time to see that consumers are buying again.




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