It's unlikely broadcasters will avoid revenue slips in the coming year, according Wachovia analyst Marci Ryvicker.
"Advertisers are cutting back significantly given rising unemployment and the general state of the economy," Ryvicker writes in a 4Q research note. "The story across the board is likely to be steep revenue declines coupled with significant cost-cutting."
There was at least a single point of light in Ryvicker's note: "While the possibilities of bankruptcies and delistings continue to pressure the stocks, neither appears likely as the banks would rather refinance than own the assets and the NYSE and NASDAQ continue to relax listing requirements—at least for now."
Talk of cost reductions, retransmission revenue and leverage still are likely to be "hot topics during this round of conference calls," Ryvicker said, but nothing is expected to make up for the implosion of the automotive sector.
"Auto has historically comprised roughly 25 percent of television advertising,' she said. "While we have already factored in the absence of political and Olympic revenue in 2009, there is still downside risk to estimates given the dire state of the automotive industry."
For 2009, Ryvicker said local spot TV revenue—the biggest category for TV stations—would decline by 15 percent. National spot is expected to fall 25 percent; syndie, down 3 percent and network revenue, down 5 percent. Total television revenues are expected to be down 12 percent in 2009 compared to last year.
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