It's that season again.

No, forget Santa, sleigh bells and doomed turkeys. It's time for media network ZenithOptimedia to pluck the dustcover from its crystal ball and bedazzle an amazed audience with its adspend prognostications for the next three years.

In an updated advertising expenditure forecast published today (Monday), the Publicis Groupe-owned agency predicts that the surging US economy will lead a shell-shocked global ad industry out of the dollar desert and into the promised land.

Spending on major media (newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cinema, outdoor and the internet) in the US will increase by 5.1% in 2004, foresees Zenith. Asia Pacific will enjoy exactly the same growth rate, while Europe will lag with +3.7%.

The gap between the US and Europe will continue through 2005, the former enjoying growth of 4.2%, the latter 3.8%. The two regions are expected to near convergence in 2006, with 4.4% growth enjoyed on the western side of the Atlantic and 4.2% on the eastern.

But despite the current buoyancy stateside, ZO has adjusted downward its previous (September) forecast for US growth in 2003, mainly due to the weakness of local ad markets. It now expects the current year to see 3% growth instead of 3.2%.

The agency has downgraded its forecasts for French ad growth both in 2003 (now just 1% compared with its earlier estimate of 1.1%) and 2004 (2.1% from 2.8%), citing the impact of weak economic performance on newspapers and magazines in particular.

"The expected economic revival did not take place in 2003; unemployment has continued to rise, further damaging consumer confidence," said ZO knowledge-management executive Jonathan Barnard.

The prospects for Germany are unchanged for this year and next, with ZenithOptimedia continuing to predict 1.5% growth in 2003 and 2.7% growth in 2004.

British prospects in 2003, however, are markedly better than forecast in September, the 0.5% growth expected previously more than doubling to 1.1%.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff