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US Ad Spending Flat, Cable and Hispanic TV Up

Michael Bodmann | E+ | Getty Images

Total U.S. spending on ads was virtually flat in the first quarter of 2013, with a 0.1 percent year-on-year decline, while the outlook remains subdued, according to a study from Kantar Media.

"Marketers are still being cautious and conservative with ad budgets" in the secon quarter, said Kantar's Chief Research Officer.

But one key area is missing: Internet display ads, like those Facebook and Yahoo shows. Kantar says they haven't been included this quarter due to "measurement changes," but their absence raises the question whether the areas that are suffering are doing so at the gain of Internet ad spending.

Network TV spending declined 5.2 percent thanks in part to weaker ratings and a shift in the calendar which moved certain NCAA game ad dollars out of the quarter. It's no surprise that newspapers continue to suffer: local newspaper revenue dropped 3.3 percent and national newspapers really suffered, down over 9 percent. Another big loser: network radio, down 15.2 percent.

The big winners were media targeting the growing Hispanic market. Spanish language TV saw a 13.5 percent increase in ad spending. Hispanic magazine bucked the downward trend in the magazine business, growing 12 percent. That bodes well for privately-held Univision and Telemundo, which is owned by CNBC's parent, Comcast.

Cable TV also continues to thrive as advertisers shift their dollars to follow ratings and more niche audiences, with spending up 5.2 percent. Winners here include the likes of Discovery (DISCA), Food Network's parent Scripps, plus the larger cable-heavy companies like Viacom and Time Warner.

Total spending may be flat, but the top ten largest advertisers spent nearly 6 percent more than a year ago. Procter & Gamble spent more than any other advertiser and 9 percent more than last year. The next two biggest spenders, AT&T and L'Oreal, also spent more than 25 percent more than the year-earlier quarter.

Which companies pulled back their spending? Comcast's spending declined more than 17 percent largely because its movie studio released fewer films. While automotive was the top-spending category, total spending declined fractionally, with General Motors spending 2.6 percent less though Ford spent nearly 13 percent more.

Perhaps an indicator of which size companies are feeling confident enough to spend, mid-size advertisers spent about 5 percent more than last year, while small advertisers spent more than 9 percent less and large advertisers' spending was flat. The problem with this data is the fact that small advertisers now have more cost-effective tools to reach consumers online than ever before- and that wasn't measured in this survey. But online is certainly where a lot of those dollars are going.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.