It’s fall, folks, and the good old-fashioned TV season is upon us. New shows like ABC’s "How to Get Away with Murder" and Fox’s "Gotham" are just a couple offerings the big networks hope will find faithful audiences.
Network TV has some catching up to do in terms of advertising revenue. Ad spending fell 7.2 percent in the second quarter over the same period last year according to Kantar Media. Cable, on the other hand, grew 9.3 percent.
The quarterly numbers are a bit misleading — a lot of network advertisers front-loaded their ad dollars on the Olympics in the first quarter, and cut back on the second quarter. That left the overall number for the first half of the year at 4.1 percent growth for network TV. But cable is still winning, with a 7.8 percent growth in ad revenue year-over-year for the first half of the 2014.
The two semi-final games of NCAA men’s basketball tournament airing on cable in 2014 versus airing on network TV in 2013 helped cable in the second quarter, says Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer for Kantar. So did the fact that the NBA finals, which air on ABC, had two fewer games in 2014.
As cable and the big networks claw at major events to steal advertising eyeballs away from one another, cable seems to have the momentum.
“Broadcast television has been suffering at the hands of cable in recent years and that’s because cable has been more effective in competing for first-run series,” says Erik Brannon, senior analyst with IHS Technology. Put another way: the shows on cable have been really, really good.
Some networks — notably CBS and Fox — have extra "scatter" advertising inventory. Scatter advertising is last-minute buys, as opposed to advertising time that’s bought weeks or even months in advance. Brannon says selling that last-minute advertising could be a big help, but only if it actually sells. Ratings for "American Idol" are down, for example.
Digital video ad growth dwarfs both cable and network ad dollars. While it's still just a fraction of all ad spending, its pace is dramatic.
“Digital video is very healthy and it is growing, but very little is really, at this point, coming at the expense of broadcast and cable,” says David Hallerman, principal analyst at eMarketer. He says video advertising revenue is still feeding on the decaying carcass of print and radio, and the advertising pie is growing.
“You’re dealing with two industries — digital and advertising — that are among the most hyperbole prone industries in the world, and they feel that anything that predates them is doomed to be trampled," Hallerman says.
The reality, for now, is that cable and network are still battling like Titans — or dinosaurs — which would make digital the small mammals scurrying on the forest floor.
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There’s a new trend in the stock market. Companies are repurchasing their own shares to help make stocks go up. And it’s working, says Dan Strumpf, reporter at The Wall Street Journal.
"Companies that do buy back their stock and have regular routine buyback programs do tend to outperform in the market," says Strumpf, who has been reporting on the subject.
Although cash levels at public companies are the highest they have been in years, the stock market volume is very low.
"There is quite a bit of debate in the marketplace as to why that’s happening," says Strumpf. "A lot of people talk about...a lack of conviction in this market. I mean, we have this sort of slow but steadily growing economy, really no fireworks to speak of. And you’ve got a very supportive Federal Reserve that is sort of keeping things humming. But you’re not seeing table pounding and high conviction investment, despite the fact that the market is at an all-time high."
Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.
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Television advertising isn't what it used to be, and the reports show it: spending was down more than 7 percent during the second quarter from the same period last year, while online ads were up nearly 10 percent in the first half of the year.
But for Starcom President Amanda Richman, it's an exciting time to be in her line of work: connecting advertisers with their ideal customers.
"There's a lot of opportunity for blue sky," Richman says. "Thanks to technology, thanks to the abundance of data, and the great creativity that's happening in this space."
Richman offered up four ways TV advertising is keeping up with a changing media landscape.
Part of Richman's job is navigating the changes in media and parsing through data to give her clients the best possible reach across all platforms.
"It's helping them understand that it's no longer connecting with viewers through television spots, and radio, and publishing," Richman says. "It's gotten much more expansive with digital, and the ability to connect with them through mobile and social, all powered by data."
In short, more data equals more money, potentially, when it comes to placing ads.
"With more data, we may be more willing to pay more for a message we know connects with the right audience and minimizes the waste," says Richman.
In the not-too-distant future — just a few years, Richman says — the ads playing during the same commercial break could be different depending on who flipped on the TV and from where.
"We are looking at a world of dynamic ad insertion," she says.
That means using location, age and other demographic information from your cable or Netflix subscription, Richman says, to conclude "that you're going to be more likely to look for, perhaps, a car ad, versus another audience member who's maybe looking at cosmetics."
Then, Starcom and other media buyers can get very granular with their ads.
Spilling over to the second screen
Viewers are increasingly using smartphones or tablets as a "second screen" to enhance their viewing experience — or tune out ads.
But new technology would allow a device to pick up audio from an ad and sync up the mobile experience accordingly, Richman says, through promoted Tweets or another advertisement. It might sound far-fetched, but Facebook recently added a feature that does the same thing, listening for TV shows and songs.
"There's actually ways in second screen to enhance the advertising [rather than] be a distraction or take away from the spot that's airing," Richman says.
This all boils down to one point: advertising becomes less annoying as more ads reach the proper audience.
"This is the fundamental change in our business: the ability to be more effective in marketing by being more relevant, more targeted, and perhaps taking advertising from being an annoyance to being useful."
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The California Public Employee’s Retirement System, better known as Calpers, is the country’s largest public pension fund with $300 billion in assets. So when it acts, investors take notice.
Calpers is going to completely shed its $4 billion dollars of hedge fund investments because it says they’re too complex and costly.
Calpers made 7.1 percent in returns on its hedge fund investments for its last fiscal year, but it also paid $135 million in fees. The pension fund has a goal for its investments of 7.5 percent returns and, as a whole, earned over 18 percent last year.
Still, it’s surprising that Calpers is getting out of hedge funds entirely, says Olivia Mitchell, the executive director of the Pension Research Council at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“The idea of hedge funds is they’re supposed to be protective of market downturns,” Mitchell explains. “One of the costs of that is that they don’t necessarily give the whole upside when markets rise.”
But she also said that hedge funds tend to be relatively opaque in their investments–which, combined with high fees, might prompt more pension funds to follow Calpers.
“Calpers has always been a leader in the public pension space,” says Mitchell. “Certainly others will take a good look at their hedge fund portfolios. My sense is that other cities in California are already taking a bit of a hard look…and Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are debating this issue as well.”