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US Ad Market Stalls in Q4 2014, Led by Lackluster TV Sector

New York, 20th Jan 2015 – US ad spending stayed flat in the fourth quarter of 2014, driven by another soft performance in the television sector, said Standard Media Index (SMI), which reports on actual spend data from the world’s largest media agencies.

Despite zero growth in Q4, the total US ad market grew +6% over 2014 led by the surge of digital media such as mobile, video and programmatic.

The results, released in SMI’s Q4 report, showed that digital was the clear front-runner with an estimated $7.6 billion spent across its channels this past quarter, propelling the sector to grow by more than +15 %.

Reporting on real spend data, SMI also estimates that national broadcast TV spend reached $4.8 billion in Q4, causing total revenues to take a hit by -2%. In cable TV, the networks reached a combined $6.8 billion but still saw a -1.6% drop in Q4.

Despite a -9% drop, automotive remains the category to attract the most ad dollars in Q4. SMI also saw retail dominate ad spend in December.


  • Television ad spending softened by -2% in Q4, however a relatively strong December lifted the quarter. The performance of broadcast TV players was a mixed bag in Q4. NBC, the largest broadcast TV network with a 27% share, maintained steady growth for Q4 (+3%) as did CBS which was also up +2%. Telemundo led the growth among the top broadcast networks in the same quarter by growing +5% year-on-year.
  • Some of the major networks suffered in Q4, with Fox declining -12%, Univision down – 6% and ABC softened by -2%.
  • The scatter market drove TV ad investment in Q4 with strong growth at +28% YOY. Categories showing their support for scatter were non-alcoholic beverages (+204%), toys and video games (+200%), and computers and software (+195%).
  • Leading the cable TV pack, share-leader ESPN grew +3% in Q4 alongside cable TV network groups AMC (+28%) and Viacom (+2%). In December, the NFL Network grew its US national ad bookings by +61%.
  • Digital ad spend continued to soar in Q4 within programmatic (+71%), mobile (+17%), display(+12%), search (+12%) and video (+11%) all attracting double-digit growth as advertisers poured more of their budgets into the sector. Overall, digital surged +15% in the quarter.
  • The quarter saw more digital ad dollars thrown at the major TV networks’ video offerings. and saw rapidly growing investment (+104% and +70% respectively) in Q4.
  • In print media, the magazine market was down -8% in Q4 on the year before. A more positive performance came from newspapers, which grew +2% in 2014 despite dropping -3% in the past quarter.

SMI captures 80% of total U.S. agency spend exclusively from the booking systems of five of the six global media holding groups, as well as leading independents. It reports monthly on actual spend data and is the clearest picture of the flow of dollars across the sector.

Standard Media Index is now a Guideline company

Learn more