Borrell: Local TV Stations to Break $1 Million Digital Ad Average

NEW YORK– The average local TV station took in 30 grand shy of $1 million in digital ad revenue last year, according to a report commissioned from Borrell by the Television Bureau of Advertising. Data indicated that stations are on track to break the $1 million mark for 2014.

“The average station made $974,359 in online advertising last year,” the report said. “Looking at reporting through the first five months of this year, that figure is on track to rise 7.4 percent, breaking the $1 million mark for the first time.”

The total would put the 2014 digital take at $2.9 billion for TV stations, comprising 6.5 percent of all station revenue and 8 percent of the total local online ad expenditure of $35.2 billion Borrell projected for 2014.

The 7.4 percent increase for 2014 among stations compares to 15 percent growth last year. Borrell attributed the cooling growth rate to stations adjusting to “new leadership,” and rethinking their strategies, including how to deal with distribution to manifold platforms and operating systems.

The issue of strategy, or rather divergence, came across in Borrell’s examination of per-station revenues by market size.

“We continue to see a curious phenomenon in these numbers that we thought would have leveled out by now,” the study said. “The difference between average and highest continues to be as much as nine times, indicating that some stations are doing things very differently with this new medium.

“Imagine it in terms of broadcast revenue performance: If the average station in a midsize market billed $20 million in spot revenue but a few stations in similar-size markets were billing more than $100 million, that would certainly be interesting. Yet that’s the same relative disparity in digital sales. In each market cohort, 5 percent of the stations report at least four times the average for their respective peer group.”

Stations that do well tend to sell as many as a dozen distinct types of digital offerings, from texts to email advertising, YouTube pre-rolls, banner and audience extension sales. Stations that generate average revenues rely primarily on banners and videos on their own sites.

“While banners and video comprised 82 percent of TV station’s digital sales in 2013, larger station groups are starting to sell digital services, including search engine optimization, reputation management, website design, ad placement outside the TV station’s site, and email list management,” TVB said.

“Many stations have branched out beyond their ‘owned’ media and are selling other media properties’ inventory,” the trade group said. “Reseller and audience-extension programs now account for 5 percent of digital revenues, a percentage that’s on the rise.”

Despite these efforts, Borrell points out that the average station captured just slightly more than 1 percent of the local digital ad spend in its market.

“Put differently, [TV] did not get 99 percent of what was spent. That’s because, unlike the broadcast environment, where competition is limited by the number of FCC licenses issued, the digital marketplace is overcrowded and fragmented,” Borrell said. “Even for newspapers, TV’s most visible competitor in the digital space, market shares tend to be in the single digits, perhaps 6 to 8 percent.”

The study included 815 stations that will face increasing competition for a silo with a 41 percent, three-year compound annual growth rate and projected to reach $70 billion by 2016. Google and Yahoo! are “aggressively” seeking local partnerships, Borrell said, while Facebook and Pinterest are exploring strategies.

“While marketing technology is great, it still takes a human to explain and sell advertising to time-starved and skeptical local business owners,” the study said. “So the legion of 80,000 local ad sales reps—including 7,000 selling TV spots—holds a great deal of value to Silicon Valley.”

The Borrell study has been commissioned annually by the TVB since 2002 and benchmarks local television broadcasters’ aggregate online advertising revenues in all 210 TV markets by total spending as well as ad format type.

The study is available at the TVB website.