Turner Says Ad Market Slowed By Clients’ ‘Wait and See’ Approach

CEO Martin remains optimistic going into upfront
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Turner Broadcasting saw the ad market “moderate” during the second quarter amid some uncertainty in the economy.

Speaking on Time Warner’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday, Turner CEO John Martin said that the uncertainty lead some advertisers to hold back their spending a little bit in what had been an incredibly strong market for TV news, including CNN.

“They’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Martin said.

"Large advertisers have also launched fewer new products this year, affecting spending in the technology, auto and pharmaceutical categories in particular, he said.

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In the most recent weeks, Martin said Turner has seen improvement in the entertainment marketplace.

“We’re experiencing an elevated level of activity with continuing strong pricing,” he said.

For the first quarter, Time Warner reported a bigger than expected 2% drop in ad sales. Factoring in the NCAA Final Four shifting to CBS from Turner, the company expects second-quarter ad revenue to be flat.

All of this activity comes on the eve of the upfront market, when TV networks sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for next season.

“This time of the year we always see posturing and positioning going into the upfront,” he said. “I think a lot of advertisers are looking at their budgets and figuring out how they want to play in the upfront, so we continue to remain optimistic.”

Martin also talked about how Turner continues to cut the number of ads in original programing on TNT, which has resulted in higher satisfaction among viewers and higher brand awareness and ad recall for clients.

Turner also cut the ad load on its truTV network in half.

“It's been extremely well received by advertisers. And we're seeing better and higher pricing. So the change has been essentially revenue neutral, which we see as a positive. And we expect to continue to experiment more and more with ad loads over time,” he said.

Turner is counting on its advanced advertising initiatives to boost ad revenue, if not in the short term, than in the longer term. The company was one of the founders of Open AP, which aims to standardize audience buying, which would reduce the impact of demographic ratings and daypart price differentials.

Martin said Turner did 100 audience-based deals during last year's upfront.

“We've already set a goal by the year 2020 that we anticipate that half of our advertising is going to be sold based on audiences. So that's a pretty aggressive goal and ambition,” he said. “If we're selling half of our advertising based on audiences, we're going to be in good shape.”

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