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US TV ad revenue up 4% in April

June 5, 2018

Standard Media Index, the advertising intelligence firm that sources data directly from the major agency holding groups,  has unveiled US advertising revenue figures for April. National TV increased ad revenue 4 per cent in April YOY, with Cable up 6 per cent and Broadcast flat. These figures exclude the NCAA Basketball Final Four Semi-finals, which took place in April last year and in March this year.

Growth in Cable

Within Cable Television, News saw the largest growth at 21 per cent, followed by Sports at 16 per cent, excluding the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Cable Entertainment grew 4 per cent in April YoY with ad revenue from syndicated shows increasing 15 per cent.  This rise in Cable Entertainment revenue is attributed to a 6 per cent increase in the amount of 30-second equivalised spots; meanwhile, Paid Unit Costs dropped -5 per cent.


Primetime TV revenue lifted 5 per cent this month YoY, as advertisers paid more in the Scatter market, driving TV networks’ revenue from Scatter buys up 14 per cent. Within Primetime, CBS grew the most of the Big Four Broadcast networks, rising 14 per cent. This was followed by ABC up 9 per cent, FOX up 3 per cent and NBC up 2 per cent.  These figures exclude the NCAA Basketball tournament.

Primetime Original Programming

Primetime Original Programming revenue grew 11 per cent this month, as the amount of 30-second commercial spots increased 9 per cent. This includes new episodes of original comedy, drama, and reality shows across both Cable and Broadcast.  Singing competition shows – specifically NBC’s The Voice and ABC’s American Idol – brought in the most revenue at $60 million and $48 million respectively. This was followed by FOX’s Empire at $18 million, AMC’s The Walking Dead at $17 million, and ABC’s final season of Scandal earning $15 Million. The most expensive show in April was FOX’s Empire, which charged an average $316,737 for a 30-second spot.

While each of the Big Four grew revenue from Primetime Original Comedies, FOX nearly doubled its revenue in the subgenre, rising 91 per cent in April YoY.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine was the largest comedy earner for the network this month, growing 41 per cent YoY, followed by The Simpsons, which tripled its income for the network.

Rise of the Reboot

National TV has ushered in a resurgence of familiar programming.  Networks have not only revived decades-old programmes, but they have also created spinoffs and prequels of current shows.  From an ad perspective, this strategy is working when it comes to comedy.  The four most expensive comedy programmes this month were: CBS’ The Big Bang Theory charging $267,267 for a 30-second spot, followed by NBC’s revival of Will & Grace at $205,829, then CBS’ prequel Young Sheldon at $183,408, and ABC’s revival Roseanne at $167,159. Despite Roseanne being ABC’s #1 original comedy this month, the network decided to cancel the show on May 29th after racist tweets from the show’s titular star.

Beyond that, several programmes returned to the small screen after getting picked up by a new network.  For example, American Idol, which aired its final season on FOX in 2016, returned to ABC this March with a new cast of judges. While the show was a revenue heavyweight for ABC this month, the paid unit cost for a 30-second commercial on Idol in April 2018 was $119,200, which is 39 per cent lower than it was in April 2016.


Television Sports revenue is up 9 per cent this month, when factoring out the NCAA Basketball Final Four Semifinals, which took place in April last year and in March this year.  The NBA brought in the most TV revenue in April within the Sports genre, up 6 per cent YoY.  When looking at the NBA’s entire regular season, which ran from October 17 to April 11, revenue was flat YoY.  Meanwhile, the NCAA Basketball March Madness Tournament concluded in April, bringing in $546 Million for the entire tournament – a 3 per cent decline from last year.

The MLB opened its current season on March 29th, and TV revenue is up 25 per cent YoY from Opening Day through the end of April.  This comes from an increase in the number of 30-second commercial spots as the average paid unit cost fell -5 per cent YoY.

Cable News

The Big Three Cable News networks – FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC – have maintained the strong growth they have seen this year, earning 24 per cent more ad revenue than April last year. CNN earned more revenue this month than FOX News for first time since December 2017.  MSNBC grew the most, gaining a momentous 71 per cent.

Looking at weekday primetime programming, the paid costs for a 30-second spot increased significantly for the quarter at each of the Big Three networks. FOX News grew 34 per cent, CNN increased 57 per cent, and MSNBC jumped 95 per cent YoY.  FOX News has upheld the highest prices for weekday primetime shows.

Advertisers by Category

Looking at advertiser categories across National TV, the Auto industry was the largest spender this quarter, growing +5 per cent YoY.  That is followed by Prescription Pharmaceuticals (+4 per cent), Food, Produce & Dairy (-3 per cent), Quick Serve Restaurants (+8 per cent), and Insurance (+6 per cent).

Looking at advertiser categories across all platforms, each of the top five categories increased spend compared to last year.  The Telecommunications industry was the largest spender in Q1, increasing +10 per cent year-over-year.  That is followed by Autos (+14 per cent), Prescription Pharmaceuticals (+12 per cent), Quick Serve Restaurants (+40 per cent), and Insurance (+21 per cent).


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