January activity remains slow, although political money is boosting markets with hotly contested primaries.
"It's not on fire," notes Pat McNew, EVP, local media network, PHD. "I'm seeing zero to 1% increases." McNew chides the television industry for "overestimating first-quarter growth. They should have been saying early on there's some terrific buys."
Says Sue Johenning, Initiative EVP/director of local broadcast, "It's not robust, but it's better than last year."
But markets in states like New Hampshire and Iowa, where the primary battles have kicked off, are getting nice bumps in revenue. Competitive Media Reporting says the politicians spent "close to $10 million" on TV ads in Iowa alone.
Jeff Barlett, general manager at WMUR-TV Manchester, N.H., points out that "significantly more" money is being spent by the candidates leading up to the New Hampshire primary than was the case for the 2000 primary, when both parties were battling it out. However, he adds, issue advertising is way down.
Says Bonita LeFlore, EVP/director of local broadcast, Zenith, "The top five markets have some activity in automotive and movie, but, below that, it's a little soft." Citing "some over-expectation that the year would be off like a rocket," she adds, "if things don't build by March, that's a different story."
Some insiders worry that automotive needs to drop zero financing. "The issue is about profit," says one key auto buyer, "and automotive is working on getting out of the mess created with incentives."