TV Broadcasters, Publishers Could Be Hit Hard by Prolonged WGA, SAG-AFTRA Strikes

Advertising revenue from TV sitcoms and soap operas could be impacted by an absence of new programming, according to a new MediaRadar study

A picketer at Paramount Studios on July 19, 2023
A picketer at Paramount Studios on July 19, 2023 (Credit: Sharon Knolle for TheWrap)

TV broadcasters and publishers could be hit hard if the historic double strike by SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America continues for many more months, a new study by advertising intelligence and sales platform MediaRadar finds.

TV advertising up until June 2023 amounted to over $26 billion, representing contributions from more than 8,500 brands, according to the firm, which tracks and analyzes ad campaigns for millions of brands across multiple media channels, including online, TV, mobile and print. Advertising slots are typically booked one to three months ahead of time — or sometimes even earlier.

The report notes that while the full effects of the ongoing strike are yet to be determined, the potential loss could be considerable.

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

Talk shows, soap operas and sitcoms accounted for $2.36 billion, or 9%, of TV ad expenditure in the first half of 2023 — a 5% decrease compared to the same period a year ago, according to the report.

Ad revenue for TV soap operas in the first half of 2023 climbed 17% year over year to $118.6 million, compared to $101.5 million during the same period a year ago, while ad revenue for TV sitcoms rose 16% year over year to $2.2 billion, up from $1.9 billion a year ago.

Conversely, TV talk shows experienced a minor decline in ad spend by 1% — from $478.2 million in the first half of 2022 to $474.9 million in the first half of 2023. Primetime TV programming saw a more substantial drop of 15% from $13.1 billion in the first half of 2022 to $11.2 billion in first half of 2023.

MediaRadar’s report comes as the writers and actors have entered day 91 and 18 of their respective strikes and as many major studios have begun wrapping their upfront negotiations.

NBCUniversal recently concluded its upfront negotiations with total cash commitments “roughly in line with last year.” In 2022, the company received $7 billion in commitments, according to AdWeek — the highest-grossing upfront in its history.

NBCU noted that sales for the Paris 2024 Olympics are nearly double the pace compared to Tokyo in 2020, with over $100 million of new advertisers. The company is anticipating sales to be ahead of all previous Olympic Games in total sales and have sold out all of its Olympic Prime Pod sponsorships. It also received 30 requests for advertiser partnerships for the 50th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live,” which it plans to confirm in the coming months.

Additionally, advertiser interest in its portfolio of sports are up nearly double-digits compared to a year ago, with its digital properties seeing a record 50% growth driven by the increase of sports on Peacock. Overall, Peacock saw a more than 30% increase in upfront commitments versus last year and NBCUniversal programming growth is up more than 50% versus the prior year period. Telemundo experienced its fourth straight year of growth at the upfront and generated the highest volume since 2019/2020.

Paramount ended their upfront negotiations with commitments “up low to mid-single digits.” The company touted its EyeQ, Vantage and Sports verticals, which saw double-digit growth on a combined basis, and a rebound in some consumer ad categories including beverage, personal care, auto and insurance.

Fox, which is still wrapping up its negotiations, reported growth in both price and volume for Fox News Media as it heads into election season and Fox Sports, driven by the NFL, MLB, college football and the World Cup, as well as the fourth consecutive year of volume growth for Tubi.