Ad revenue results mixed for local media
The Business Review
The economy was tight. The country was at war. But local media outlets still managed to finish 2003 at least a bit ahead of where they were in 2002.
"It was OK, better than we expected," said Stacy Rodgers, general manager of Latham radio station operator Albany Broadcasting Co. Inc. "When the war hit and things started going south, we were bracing ourselves for the worst. But it was OK."
Jack Myers, a New York City-based researcher who publishes a daily newsletter for media investors, expects full-year advertising expenditures nationally to top 2002 sales by 3.5 percent.
According to Myers and other forecasters, two of the strongest categories in 2003 were local magazines and local/regional cable networks. Among the beneficiaries of that growth were Capital Region Living magazine and Capital News 9, a 24-hour local news channel on Time Warner Cable.
"We're doing great," said Michael Gough, publisher of Delmar-based Capital Region Living. "We just closed our January/February issue and it was our biggest yet from an advertising perspective."
Gough said the magazine, which debuted in July, actually is ahead of where he had expected it to be at this point.
Capital News 9 celebrated its first birthday in mid-October. General sales manager Rich Hahn said the channel "far exceeded" its sales goal for the year.
The broadcast affiliates had a tougher go of it. Jeff Whitson, general manager of Albany Fox station WXXA/Channel 23, estimates that local stations saw an increase in spot advertising of a percentage point or two over 2002. Spot advertising does not include the political advertising that helped fill coffers last year.
"The year started off tremendous, and then the war hit and there were some concerns about what was going to happen," Whitson said. "The expectation was that the third and fourth quarters would rebound and the year would end up great, but it hasn't. We're waiting for all this great economic news to trickle down to Albany and it hasn't gotten here yet."
Radio stations had an even more difficult time, both nationally and locally. Edward Levine, president of Galaxy Communications, the Syracuse-based owner of WRCZ, 94.5 FM and WKRD, 93.7 FM, said the Capital Region radio market as a whole saw a 2.3 percent decline in revenue in 2003.
Because 2003 was only Galaxy's second full year in the Albany market, it was able to grow its revenue by 46 percent. It also increased its share of the pool of money spent on local radio spots from 2.8 percent to 3.7 percent.
"In an environment where everyone is down, it is harder to gain market share because everyone is grabbing for everything they can get," Levine said. "We are still not quite where I wanted to be budget-wise, but I would still consider it a good year."
The national forecasters are expecting moderate gains for newspaper revenue in 2003. That seems to be the case locally, too.
"We wound up OK," said James Marshall, publisher of the Glens Falls Post Star. "It seems like this market area, Glens Falls and Saratoga, is getting a little bit stronger. We have a new Home Depot, a Best Buy–our insert business is getting stronger and that's encouraging."
The final major category, outdoor advertising, was down by some 2003 estimates and up slightly by others. Lang Media, an Albany-based outdoor media company, bucked the trend with a 10 percent gain.
"Our 2003 was awesome, " said president Michael Lang.
Lang attributes his success to the fact that he has expanded his product line in recent years. In addition to billboards, Lang Media offers supermarket benches, bus wraps, bus shelters, and signs in malls and concert venues.
"We now have a wider base of customers," Lang said. "Before, probably 50 percent of the local advertising base were potential customers. Now 75 percent are and we have to hire some more people."
With 2003 coming to a close, the question now is, how will 2004 be? Both Myers and Robert Coen, forecaster for Universal McCann, a New York City-based advertising agency, expect overall advertising growth of better than 6 percent nationally.
Local media executives also are optimistic.
"We are seeing activity in some categories–retail, automotive, food, restaurants–that have been quiet for a while," said Albany Broadcasting's Rodgers. "And with it being a presidential election year, hopefully it will get the pocketbooks open. The pattern is that more positive things happen in a presidential election year. Plus it is an Olympic year, so that won't hurt. Hopefully, my brethren in TV will get busy and then we'll all get busy."