NEW YORK: The Ho,Ho,Ho holiday season is nigh, as evidenced by the annual ritual joust between adland's brace of senior seers, Robert J Coen and Steve King. A spectacle eye-witnesses equate to the epic thaumaturgical duels between Gandalf and Saruman.

Convened Monday in the sacred sanctum of Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel, the respective media wizards of Universal McCann and ZenithOptimedia revealed their crystal balls to an assembly of financial analysts and journalists.

Disappointingly lacking the white beard and flowing locks of Gandalf, Coen, UM's senior vp-director of forecasting, was the first to address the 34th UBS Annual Global Media & Communications Conference.

Despite the fact that online advertising growth has now reached orbital velocity, chiromancer Coen predicted only a 4.8% rise in overall advertising expenditure in US national and local media in 2007. Whereupon clairvoyant King retaliated, foretelling even lower growth at 4.2%.

Coen countered with a a vision that current year adspend growth will settle at 5.2%, as opposed to his more optimistic earlier forecast of 5.8%. King's current year predictions, sadly, were not reported.

The wizards were, however, in accord that global advertising expenditure in 2007 will likely run in tandem with the world economy rather than surpass it - as has happened in recent years. They both believe the new equilibrium will be maintained for the foreseeable future.

As to the fiery-tailed comet of the internet, the thaumaturges agree there will be double-digit increases in web adspend for 2007, and that the medium is set to continue as a major driver of media spending. At which point they begged to differ, with King predicting 28.2% growth and Coen just 15%.

The reason for this divergence? The former includes all web adspend while the latter excludes search ads - believing that category to be the "most volatile" of all available web data lacking any objective or trustworthy measurement.

In defense of his all-comers stance King invoked an arcane incantation, understood only by other media magi: "We're at a tipping point in media consumption . . . and changing social behavior, blurring the lines between different media types," he intoned. "We call it 'media mutation.'"

Translated into English, this means he expects 2007 to be one of the last years in which adspend forecasts will be broken down into discrete media columns. "I anticipate the gap between media time and ad spend to close," he said.

Gandalf, on the other hand, would probably have recommended the ancient Wiccan prosperity spell in which supplicants circle the altar three times chanting: Orbiting Jupiter, trine the sun, bring money on the run.

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