Update: MoffettNathanson retracts Q4 commercial volume report

Update: MoffettNathanson has retracted a report declaring that commerical loads on cable networks were up 7 percent in the fourth quarter. According to the investment analyst firm, data provided by TiVo was flawed. Principal analyst Michael Nathanson released this statement Thursday: "In yesterday's blog post 'Just Add Units! A Look at 4Q Spot Counts,' we inadvertently created a stir by publishing two charts depicting commercial minutes by broadcast and cable network parent company. Unfortunately, as it turns out, TiVo's data set incorrectly calculated the number commercial minutes.  After following up with a handful of our companies, we believe that Fox Broadcasting was the most misrepresented with TiVo data implying a +12% increase in the past quarter versus flat-to-slightly down.  A massive error.  Within cable networks, TiVo's estimate of +8% for Viacom did not include all of their cable networks. After adjusting for all of Viacom's cable networks under management, the number of commercial minutes increased, but at a lower rate, up mid-to-high single digits. For Discovery, commercial minutes is closer to down low-single digits, not the +5% tracked by TiVo.  We note that these revised figures have been corroborated by Nielsen's Monitor Plus service.

The errors mainly affected analysis of broadcast networks, which FierceCable's report didn't focus on. With that in mind, here's our original report based on MoffettNathanson's since-retracted data:

Faced with cratering ratings and a soft ad market, the major cable programming conglomerates saw their ad revenue dip only 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter.

How did they do it? Volume, volume, volume!

According to a report published Wednesday by MoffettNathanson principal analyst Michael Nathanson, who crunched TiVo viewer data, leading cable networks collectively increased the number of commercials running on their channels by a whopping 7 percent in Q4.

This forestalled a disaster on their corporate balance sheets, but it perhaps dooms live TV distribution to the ever-present threat of more consumer-friendly on-demand platforms.

Leading this trend were Viacom networks, which increased their total ad load by 13 percent. A+E (10 percent) and Discovery Networks (9 percent) were also on the high side. Disney-owned networks, which included ESPN, only increased their loads by 1 percent.

For their part, the broadcast networks actually saw their ad loads collectively decline 2 percent year over year.

The increased loads came amid steep ratings declines for linear cable channels, which collectively saw their audience dip 7 percent in the fourth quarter.

For more:
- read this MoffettNathanson report (subscription required)
- read this Variety story

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