TV ad revenue challenged by writers’ strike

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike in May, putting new scripted episodes of shows on hold until they get a better deal. How bad is this for TV ad revenue? Ad revenue is already slipping from talk shows, soap operas and sitcoms, a category that makes up 9% of the $26 billion in TV ads overall, according to a study taken in June, before the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA went on strike, by ad sales intelligence company Media Radar.

Here’s a look at what the study found.

Scripted TV down. Talk shows, soap operas and sitcoms took in 9%, or $2.36 billion, of $26 billion in TV ad revenue in the first half of 2023. Sales for these shows are down 5% compared to H1 2022.

Because ad slots are often bought several months in advance, the full brunt of the WGA strike is still to come.

Primetime programming. Primetime TV programming saw a substantial 15% drop this year, from $13.1 billion in H1 ‘22 down to $11.2 billion in H1 ‘23.

TV talk shows were down 1% in ad spend over the same period.

“Lucrative late-night talk shows specifically have been off the air already for a couple months,” said MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman, in a release. “Soon, fall programming, including talk shows, soap operas and primetime sitcoms should air. However, that is likely to be delayed since they rely on writers through the summer for scripts.”

Dig deeper: 4 tips to get the most out of CTV advertising

Bad timing. Some scripted shows were gaining in ad revenue up until the strike.

For instance, ads for soap operas rose 17% YoY — from $101.5 million in H1 ‘22 to $118.6 million this year.

Also, sitcoms were up 16%, earning $2.2 billion in H1 2023, up from $1.9 billion last year.

Why we care. This study was based on both traditional and digital channels. This year, digital ad spend is roughly three-quarters of overall spend. And CTV is, on average, 10% of digital, and rapidly climbing.

Although streaming services open up the vault to old episodes (on traditional TV, they’re called reruns), digital TV does have new hits for “appointment viewing” — like Max’s recently concluded “Succession” — and they’re all on hold.

So for the summer, TV ad revenue is at a standstill. Expect the real impact of the WGA strike to hit this fall.

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