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TV viewers have been disappearing, but TV ad spending keeps chugging along

Is this the year that changes?

Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Is this the year TV advertisers finally catch up to TV viewers?

You know what’s been happening to TV viewers: They’ve been disappearing, year after year. But TV advertisers haven’t followed suit: They’ve kept their spending the same — or even increased it — year after year after year.

The broadcast TV “upfronts,” which kick off Monday morning, illustrate the trend nicely. The upfronts are a series of glitzy showcases put on by the networks, followed by weeks of negotiating where advertisers commit to the bulk of the TV spending they’ll do for the next 12 months.

For most of the last decade, upfront spending has grown. Last year, cable and broadcast networks sold $9.7 billion worth of ads for the upfronts, a 6 percent increase from 2016 according to data from Media Dynamics.

Meanwhile, the number of people paying for TV — and, by extension, watching those ads — has been declining. In 2017, 93.8 million people paid for TV, down 4 percent from the year before, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

In the past, TV advertisers have offered a range of reasons why they haven’t pulled their spending from a shrinking medium. But maybe this is the year that changes: Magna Global predicts that upfront ad spending will decline at least 1 percent this year.

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