Q4 the worst for U.S. TV ad sales since the recession, analyst says

After blaming slowing TV ad sales in each previous quarter of 2014 on everything from government shutdown fears to Winter Olympics disruption to cold weather, media analyst Michael Nathanson says "excuses are running out" for the worst ad sales quarter since the great recession.

"It's hard to hide the fact that the U.S. national TV market has decelerated sequentially and precipitously over the past year," he writes in a blog post published Friday.

With media company Q4 earnings reports culminating this week, Nathanson determined the U.S. national TV ad market to be down around 0.9%.

Among cable network operators, there were winners, with AMC Networks' national advertising revenue ticking up 16 percent year over year and 21st Century Fox shooting up 5 percent. But NBCUniversal (down 5.5 percent), Discovery Networks (-4 percent) and Viacom (-6 percent) posted major retrenchments in Q4.

With some programmers reporting a reacceleration of ad sales entering the spring upfront market, Nathanson said we're entering a critical period for U.S. TV ad sales, which will determine if the sluggishness is merely cyclical or represents a sea change.

"To us, the real proof will ultimately be if March can sustain this momentum and whether any of the broadcast and cable networks have enough inventory to sell after make-goods to help lift 1Q results," the analyst wrote.

For more:
- read this MoffetNathanson blog post (sub. req.)

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