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Advertising Plummeted Q1-Q3 — Is It Turning Around Now?

Les Moonves
AP
Les Moonves

Today Les Moonves told CNBC that advertisers are coming back into the marketplace and that advertising, which CBS depends on, is looking bullish.

Moonves reports that pricing for ads in the "scatter" market -- those sold at the last minute are up 25 percent from the prices at the Upfront sales period when advertisers try to lock in prices. And it looks like the automotive sector; retail and financial marketers are all coming back.

Though visibility isn't as clear as it once was, it's getting a lot clearer than it has been over the past nine months.

Moonves was bullish overall: people underestimate the network TV business and local ads are strong.

He said on Power Lunch to CNBC's David Faber "as long as we provide premium content... life is good." He was even pleased with Comcast's deal to buy NBC Universal , saying that it places a high value on content. And once Comcast owns a network, it'll value paying a network retransmission fees, which Moonves says could help CBS in its push for retransmission fees. Whether it'll be weird for a business partner (Comcast) to own a competitor (NBC), Moonves says it'll be "interesting."

But Moonves' optimism is a dramatic departure from the doom and gloom we've been hearing about the ad market. Total measured ad expenditures plummeted 14.7 percent in the first nine months of this year according to the latest report from TNS Media Intelligence. This is just the latest in a long string of bad news -- in the third quarter ad spending dropped 15.3 percent, the sixth quarter of year-over-year declines. Jon Swallen, TNS' SVP of research points out the sliver of good news in these weak numbers: the fact that the ad industry has been in a slump for a year means that year-over-year comparisons will start to improve. And of course there were two areas that managed to eke out gains despite the overall decline. Internet display ads showed a 7 percent spending increase while FSIs (ad inserts), through the smallest category, grew 3.9 percent.

It's interesting to see which advertisers are increasing their spend and what's driving those ad campaigns. Stiff competition in the telecom sector is bolstering spending there -- telecom spending gained .4 percent. The other sector with an increase was Pharmaceuticals, which showed a .6 percent increase in the nine-month period. The fastest-declining sectors were automotive, where spending fell over 30 percent and financial services, which showed a 23.7 percent decline in spending.

Does Moonves' optimism reflect a dramatic turnaround in the fourth quarter?

Or are his CBS assets simply outperforming rivals?

The fact that CBS network ratings continue to be strong certainly helps. But such strength should reflect more than just some strong ratings.

We'll have to wait to see if Moonves bullishness means that the sector is staging a true fourth quarter turnaround.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com