Nielsen: US ad spend down 9% in 2009


Spending fell an estimated $11.6 billion to a total of $117 billion last year. The figures continue a trend of at least six straight quarters of negative growth in the ad industry, but it’s a trend that shows evidence of slowing down. In the previous two quarters, Nielsen reported declines of 15.4% and 11.5%.

Spanish Language Cable TV (+32.2%) and Cable TV (+14.8%) stood out as the top-gaining media in 2009. Free-Standing Insert Coupon (+11.5) was the only other medium to show significant year-over-year growth. Internet (+0.1%) remained essentially flat. African-American TV (a subset of network, cable, and syndicated) enjoyed a 13.8% increase in spending year-over-year. Spanish language TV (cable and network combined) fell 0.4%.

Both network and spot radio had declines in the high nines; but the big hit in broadcast was Top 100 markets for Spot TV–down 16.1%. This was an even bigger hit than local and national Newspapers (see chart). 

“Fourth quarter ad spending was down just two percent year-over-year, and that helped soften the full-year decline,” said Terrie Brennan, SVP/new business development at The Nielsen Company. “In fact, most of the top advertisers showed increased spending late in the year. These are encouraging signs for an ad market that’s still trying to stop the bleeding.”

Year-to-Year Change in Ad Spend, by Media

Media Category*

Jan-Dec 2009

vs. Jan-Dec 2008

% Change

Spanish Language Cable TV


Cable TV


FSI Coupon




Spanish Language Network TV


National Sunday Supplement


Spot Radio


Network Radio


Network TV


Local Newspaper




National Newspaper


Spot TV 101-210


Syndicated TV


Spot TV Top 100


National Magazine


Local Magazine




Local Sunday Supplement


Grand Total


Source: The Nielsen Company

* All data from non-Internet media pulled from Nielsen’s Ad*Views database

** Internet advertising expenditures pulled from AdRelevance database and account for CPM-based, image-based advertising. These reported estimated expenditures do not account for paid search advertising, text only, paid fee services, performance-based campaigns, sponsorships, barters, in-stream (“pre-rolls”) players, messenger applications, partnership advertising, promotions and email campaigns, or house advertising activity.

Ad spend declines are easing up even in print media, which have taken more than their share of lumps over the last few years. National Newspapers were down 13.7% last year, but it’s an improvement from the -21.6% pace that Nielsen reported through the first three quarters of 2009. Local Newspapers finished relatively strong in 2009, cutting its reported 14% decline in ad revenue through Q3 to -10.4% by year’s end.

Spending by the top ten product categories was down 9.5% in 2009. The automotive industry was the top category with over $8 billion spent last year. Pharmaceutical, Quick Service Restaurants, and Department Stores were next on the list, with each category showing year-over-year gains.

There was some notable activity among product categories outside the top 10. Investment Services not only saw ad spend fall 14% to $1.3 billion in 2009, but the category also had about 1000 fewer advertisers in 2009 compared to 2008. On the other hand, spending by web-based advertisers climbed 32% to $1.1 billion, paced by dramatic spending increases by Hulu and Bing.