After three years of anemic sales due to inventory shortages caused by supply chain disruptions, the automotive category is starting to show signs of life. Some radio groups reported an increase in auto advertising during the fourth quarter with the trend accelerating in 2023. But the turnaround is not universal and remains inconsistent from market to market. However, broadcasters are optimistic that as 2023 unfolds, the category will continue to rebound.
“Auto, our largest category continues to show positive signs of emergence from hibernation,” Audacy CEO David Field said during the company’s recent quarterly earnings call. Ad spend by auto dealers jumped 9% year over year at Audacy while the sector overall, including dealer associations, grew 8%.
The ad category was also up at Cumulus Media in Q4. CFO Frank Lopez-Balboa reported automotive was up in the low single digits during the quarter and pacing up mid-to-high single digits in Q1 2023. While both companies say auto is still a far cry from 2019 levels, they are nonetheless encouraged that the crucial category is slowly turning around.
Auto’s performance at Beasley Media Group in Q4 was inconsistent. CFO Marie Tedesco reported double-digit increases at its Detroit, Augusta, Fayetteville, and Wilmington clusters and low single-digit increases in Charlotte and New Jersey. But auto, which has dropped to Beasley’s fourth largest category, saw revenues down 3% year-over-year.
Townsquare Media, which operates radio stations exclusively outside the top 50 markets, is still waiting for the category to produce some green shoots. “We have not seen a meaningful recovery to our auto spending in our small markets,” said CFO Stuart Rosenstein.
According to a preliminary tally from LMC Automotive, U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 9.5 percent to 1.14 million in February, well above forecasts, with sharply higher fleet deliveries once again offsetting flat retail volume, per a report from Automotive News. Ford Motor’s February sales increased by more than 20% from subdued results a year earlier.
The sales pickup has some broadcasters feeling upbeat about the category continuing to recover in the months ahead. Audacy says they are continuing to see growth in 2023, both in radio and digital ad sales. “We are having constructive conversations with our auto customers across the country that lead us to believe that we will likely see [an] acceleration in auto spend as we work our way through the year,” Field told analysts.
Cumulus also sees the category gaining ground in the first three months of 2023. “After several years of considerable weakness, greater inventory levels are driving auto dealers to increase their advertising,” CEO Mary Bermer said. “While the automotive recovery is still somewhat inconsistent across the country, in aggregate, we're seeing the category pacing up in Q1.”