National TV In Q1: COVID-19 Bug Begins To Bite



The effect of COVID-19 on the advertising and media industries was first felt in the final three weeks of March, greatly impacting the revenue for the month.

But, to what extent did it impact the entire first quarter of 2020? We now have that answer, thanks to Standard Media Index (SMI).

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SMI’s AccuTV Broadcast Report that, year over year, national TV ad revenue in Q1 2020 (comprised of broadcast, cable and syndication) was $10.84 billion — a decline of 5.4% from the first quarter of 2019.

A breakout of those dollars shows that the ad revenue for national TV in March 2020 was $3.78 billion.

That’s a year-over-year drop-off of 12.8%.

“As expected, the 2019-20 broadcast year-to-date had a more modest loss of 3.2% based on $23.73 billion,” SMI CEO James Fennessy notes.

The decline occurred in broadcast and cable TV, as the ad revenue from syndication increased, he adds.

In March 2020, the ad revenue for broadcast TV was $1.16 billion. This reflects a steeper tumble than that seen for national TV, with a decrease of 19.3% from March 2019. The primary reason: the loss of live sports programming, which began on Thursday, March 12, following the final National Hockey League games, including a Los Angeles Kings match-up at Staples Center in Los Angeles just as news of an infected National Basketball Association player put an immediate stop to the league’s 2019-2020 season.

No broadcast network was impacted more than CBS, which along with cable partner Turner, televises the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — “March Madness.”

Last year, SMI found the 67-game tournament collected $648 million ad dollars.

The revenue loss “will be hard, if not impossible, to recapture,” Fennessy says.

As a result, CBS reported a decline in ad revenue of 48.1%. “Nonetheless, CBS still ranked second in ad revenue among broadcast networks at $283.6 million,” Fennessy adds.

NBC also reported a year-over-year decline (-7.6%), but garnered the most ad revenue among broadcasters at $317.8 million. The ad revenue for both FOX (+3.6%) and ABC (+2.6%), had a slight uptick when March 2020 is compared to March 2019. 

For Hispanic media, Univision grew revenue by 2.4% as Telemundo reported a slight decline of -0.6%.

For all of Q1, broadcast TV reported a decline of 3.8% for total ad revenue of $4.24 billion. Cable TV ad revenue was 7.3%, totaling $6.16 billion. The ad revenue for syndication jumped by 7.1% to $435 million. 

What will Q2 look like?

“The first ten weeks of 2020 could very well be an end of era in how consumers interact with media,” Fennessy concludes. “What impact it will have on the ad marketplace especially with prominent product categories will be closely scrutinized.”