Investors' Fears Grow for US Ad Market in 2008

30 November 2007

NEW YORK: There's gathering gloom in the canyons of Wall Street about the horrors - real and imagined - that await US media and entertainment investors as the planet lurches apprehensively toward 2008.

Their melancholia is triggered by a number of factors: the general malaise of global stock markets, talk of a full-blown recession, and a plethora of downwardly-revised adspend forecasts.

The share prices of the 'big three' marketing services conglomerates - Omnicom, WPP and Interpublic - reflect this unease, all currently languishing at a 52-week low.

One Jeremiad is Goldman Sachs analyst Anthony Noto, who believes many media and entertainment companies will experience "a larger-than-expected slowdown in 2008 than is reflected in current financial estimates".

He is echoed by fellow-haruspex Gamco Investors portfolio manager Lawrence Haverty: "The biggest problem is slowly eroding expectations."

It is against this woebegone backdrop that the great and the good of the ad and media worlds will congregate next week at the annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference.

Among the prognosticators delivering their oft-revised adspend prophesies will be Universal McCann's media doyen Robert Coen and his transatlantic counterpart Steve King, ceo of ZenithOptimedia.

Although the seers' reveries traditionally vary by the odd percentage point, there is a good deal of common ground so far as 2008 is concerned.

Most of the clairvoyants, including WPP ceo Sir Martin Sorrell, predict an upsurge in US ad spending next year, thanks to the steroidal jolt of the Beijing Olympics and the US presidential elections.

But realists warn the benefits of these quadrennial events could be negated by a recession, the housing bear market and oil prices beyond $100 a barrel. In this climate, they say, marketers are likely to cut back on some underlying ad spending.

A cyclical decline may have already set in, according to TNS Media Intelligence, which reports total US ad expenditures down by 0.3% to $72.6 billion (€49.22bn; £35.09bn) in this year's first half.

Notes TNS president/ceo Steven Fredericks: "For the first time since 2001, media advertising expenditures have declined for two consecutive quarters." He added that this trend could continue through the second half of 2007.

As ever, the sole bullish glimmer is emitted by the online sector, which maintains a strong upward curve. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reports that online adspend for the first six months of 2007 reached nearly $10 billion, a record, and 27% up year-on-year.

In-cinema advertising also prospered.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff