Monday, December 8, 2008

Ad-Spending Forecasts Are Glum

Estimates Vary, but Economic Crisis Is Expected to Spur Cuts in U.S., Abroad

For the advertising and media industries, the worst is yet to come, according to some of Madison Avenue's most closely watched forecasts.

Fallout from the global financial crisis will bring cuts in total ad spending next year both in the U.S. and abroad, though predictions vary widely. Publicis Groupe media agency ZenithOptimedia expects U.S. ad spending to drop 6.2% in 2009 to $161.8 billion. WPP's agency GroupM sees a decline of 3% to $157 billion.

Continued growth in emerging markets will help offset declines in North America and Western Europe, according to both firms, which predict that global ad spending will decline by 0.2% in 2009.

Both companies plan to present their forecasts Monday morning at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. Their predictions have been keenly anticipated as industry observers seek signs of how severe an impact the economic downturn will have on the ad business.

Another high-profile forecaster, Robert J. Coen, senior vice president and director of forecasting at Interpublic Group's Magna, also plans to present his predictions at the conference Monday. IPG declined to release its forecasts ahead of time.

Forecasts from Zenith and GroupM represent differing views on ad spending in 2008. Zenith says the current ad spending downturn started in the third quarter and has accelerated through the end of the year, with U.S. ad spending down 3.8% in 2008 to $172.5 billion. Group M is predicting that U.S. ad spending increased 0.3% this year to $162 billion.

In addition to weakness in spending from automotive and financial advertisers, GroupM predicts that retailers will be under pressure following the critical holiday sales season. It says that while it has yet to see wholesale cancellations among its clients, advertisers are now watching every penny.

Spending cuts probably will be most severe for newspapers, magazines and radio as advertisers shift dollars to digital media. One bright spot continues to be Internet, which will keep on growing, albeit not as quickly as in recent years. Online ad spending is expected to increase 5% in 2009, down from 16% growth in 2008, according to GroupM. TV spending also should fare relatively well in the downturn. Advertisers are familiar with using that model to build brands, and TV viewing tends to rise in recessions because TV is a low-cost entertainment option, according to Zenith.

Still, these forecasts paint rosier pictures than recent predictions from Wall Street analysts, which also are split.

Just last week, Fitch Ratings cautioned that U.S. ad spending next year would drop between 6% and 9%, in line with the steep downturn experienced in 2001 following the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That year was the worst ad recession since 1970.

Fitch predicts that the current downturn will extend well into 2010, probably causing broad pullbacks in both the national and the local markets, pressure across a wide spectrum of advertising categories including retail, auto and financial services, and a glut of ad space thanks to the Web and other emerging media.

UBS is forecasting that U.S. ad spending will fall 6% in 2009 but doesn't anticipate the ad spending decline will be as steep as in 2001.

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