The SARS outbreak poses the latest threat to outdoor advertising, sector giant J C Decaux has warned.

Revealing a 1.6% dip in first-quarter revenues to €352.9 million ($386.7m; £243.2m), the France-headquartered group revealed it believes SARS will hit transport adspend – which includes airport advertising – in Q2.

Said chairman/co-ceo Jean-Charles Decaux: “Although the SARS disease did not significantly affect transport in the first quarter, we expect a negative impact in the second quarter, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which will slow the recovery in the division.”

SARS or no, its transport unit is already in decline, with Q1 revenues falling 2.8% to €64.7m. [More cynical observers suggest that Decaux’s early excuses for underperformance may be symptomatic of a different strain of SARS – Scapegoat for Ad Revenue Slowdown.]

Elsewhere, the group’s street furniture division dipped 3.7% to €191.5m, while billboard revenues rose 3.8% to €96.7m. Excluding currency changes, Decaux reported organic growth of 8.9% for the quarter, with double-digit percentage expansion in the US, Italy, Spain, Sweden and France.

Continued the chairman: “The advertising market as a whole remains challenging with no improvement in short-term visibility, however we currently expect organic revenues for the first half to be slightly ahead of the corresponding period in 2002.”

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff