ITV chairman Archie Norman has described television advertising as a "faulty shower" and it looks like the metaphorical water pressure could well be on the blink again.
Multiple signs from the advertising industry suggest there is a slowdown under way and that is likely to hit ITV more than most since it still gets close to three-quarters of its revenues from ads.
Media buyers are talking about a possible slide of 8 per cent in November, the most important month of the year, and 5 per cent in December. The Downton Abbey broadcaster declined to give guidance ahead of its third-quarter results but the official data does not look great.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's Bellwether Survey shows that marketing budgets were revised down for a second-successive quarter and to the greatest extent since the end of 2009. The US advertising giant Omnicom, owner of agencies Abbott Mead Vickers and Adam & Eve/DDB, has also reported UK revenues went into reverse, falling 0.1 per cent in the last three month – despite the supposed boost from the Olympics.
Little wonder Giasone Salati, an analyst at the broker Espirito Santo, says "it is increasingly doubtful that the total spend on advertising will rise at all in 2012".
ITV shares have had a good year, hitting a 52-week high earlier this week, after chief executive Adam Crozier wiped out net debt and boosted profits. But now some traders think the time has come to take profits, with Mr Salati saying: "We believe that the macro outlook in the UK is worsening." The shares fell 0.65p to 91.7p.
Elsewhere in the TV sector, BSkyB got a knock, falling 16p or more than 2 per cent to 733.5p, making it among the worst fallers in the FTSE 100.
Brokers were spooked after the Scandinavian pay-TV group Modern Times Group said it was being hit by cut-price internet TV services and its shares plunged by more than 22 per cent.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), which is bearish on Sky, reckons there could be a read-across for the UK, although it is a very different market.
BAML's fear is that Sky could be weakening its competitive position as it hikes prices, after an inflation-busting auction for Premier League TV rights and the renewal of its pay-TV movie deal with Warner Bros. The bank expects Sky to report its slowest TV additions in more than a decade on 1 November .
However, the fast-growing new market for internet-connected TV is not without challenges. Moshe Bartov, chief executive of PeerTV, which makes boxes that enable people to stream content from the internet directly to their home TV set, abruptly quit yesterday after a string of problems.
Peer has had to admit that trading had been "seasonally slow" in September and it is "unlikely" that the shortfall would be made up during October. Then there were revelations of new hardware problems with one of its set-top boxes, as the Aim-listed company discovered a subcontractor had problems over equipment.
While the subcontractor has vowed to rectify the situation, agreement has not been reached and there could be a $30,000 (£18,600) hit, Peer warned. "The result of these developments is that the cash position of the company will be tight in November," it added.
Despite it recently completing a £505,800 (net of expenses) fundraising, PeerTV said it is resorting to invoice discounting for cash. Mr Bartov's temporary replacement is taking responsibility for restructuring "with a view to realising cost savings". That helped to lift the shares 0.375p or 5 per cent to 7.88p. Some perspective, though: that's down from 65p in January last year.
On the broader market, the FTSE 100 ended up 6.14 points at 5917.05.
Vodafone, the top dividend payer in the Footsie, rose 2.05p to 176.8p. The telecom giant was boosted by news that Verizon, in which it has a 45 per cent stake, is discussing a further payout to shareholders before the end of the year. It took several years of tortuous negotiations before Verizon agreed an initial payout last year.
Some sceptics were looking to have a go at Direct Line, the insurer part-spun out of Royal Bank of Scotland. "Given the substantial stock overhang that exists with RBS holding just under 70 per cent of the issued shares, and being a forced seller before the end of 2014, we struggle to see the shares re-rating aggressively, at least until that overhang has cleared," said Marcus Barnard at Oriel Securities. Shares slipped as much as 4p before closing down just 0.25p to 192.75p.
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