Competition from the Web may be one reason television networks have seen a worrying decline in advertising revenue this quarter.
Competition from the Web may be one reason television networks have seen a worrying decline in advertising revenue this quarter. - 
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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 MediaCable, 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.