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Report: Advertising weak through September

December 8, 2009 |  4:30 am

The U.S. advertising market could not shake its doldrums -- at least not through the first nine months of the year.

Advertising tracker TNS Media Intelligence this morning said that advertising sales plummeted 14.7% during the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period in 2008.

The top 10 advertisers, according to TNS, spent a combined total of $11.75 billion for the first three quarters of the year -- a 5.9% decrease compared to the same period last year. Procter & Gamble Co., Verizon Communications Inc., General Motors Corp., AT&T Inc. and Johnson & Johnson were the leading advertisers, with each company spending over $1 billion from January through September. 

However, two-thirds of the top 100 advertisers cut their advertising budgets this year.

Magazines, newspapers and radio stations experienced the steepest declines -- the second straight year of bad news for the denizens of "old media." Broadcast television networks saw sales tumble by 11.5% for the first three quarters of the year -- and a whopping 25% during the third quarter of 2009.  Network television faced difficult comparisons because commercial sales were catapulted during third quarter of 2008 by the Summer Olympics. Cable television networks, meanwhile, experienced only a 2.9% decline -- "a much stronger performance than the TV sector as a whole," the TNS report found.

Internet display advertising perked up 7%, boosted by the campaigns of telephone companies, the travel industry and auto advertisers.

TV network executives say fourth-quarter advertising spending has been more robust than earlier in the year, although this quarter was not covered by the TNS survey. Industry watchers say holiday retail sales should determine the strength of the advertising market going into next year.

"The timing, strength and durability of an advertising recovery will ultimately be determined by the way consumer activity rebounds," Jon Swallen, TNS senior vice president for research, said in a statement contained in the report.

-- Meg James