Paid airtime slows on major US networks amid COVID-19

As brands reduce their advertising spend, how much commercial time is now filled with network promotions and PSAs?
28 April 2020
Rachel Gursky

Content Marketing Director, Kantar, US

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and we adjust to our new normal, brands have been busy adjusting their media plans, with many of them pulling back on advertising. As a result, TV networks have been left with commercial time they need to fill.

Kantar analyzed the amount of commercial time the four major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX) have been airing in their prime-time programming during recent weeks to see how much of it is paid for and how much is network promos and PSAs.

Total airtime remains stable

Pre-recorded entertainment programming already has fixed ad breaks that can’t be changed, and as such total ad time on the four networks, including promos and PSAs, was holding steady from February 3 through April 12, even increasing by :20 seconds per hour during this time. However, the week ending April 19 we saw a dip in commercial time of 01:03 mm:ss per hour from the previous week.

The percentage of time coming from paying sponsors has dropped by about 01:30 mm:ss per hour over the past several weeks. The week ending March 8, we found 11:52 mm:ss per hour of paid air time, however most recently, the week ending April 19 came in with only 10:28 mm:ss per hour. To fill the holes in commercial pods the networks have been airing more promos and PSA spots.

Advertising spend may decrease even more than ad time, as advertisers could be choosing to place their commercials in less expensive dayparts like daytime vs. prime-time TV. They may also be getting makegoods from networks for events that got cancelled or postponed like March Madness and the Olympics.

Though networks are currently being forced to fill the void, there may be a bounce back soon. Political advertising is currently experiencing a quiet phase which is not due to the pandemic. Political ad spending is always at its lowest point in March, April and May, and as the election draws closer, paid time will likely increase with an infusion of ad buys from political advertisers. Until then, we will be continuing to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and how the media industry is being affected.

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