Cable, syndie ads up in first-half '08

But overall spending fell 1.4%

Advertising spending in the U.S. fell slightly in the first half of the year as movie studios and a couple of other key industries scaled back their ad buys.

Overall, ad spending dropped 1.4%, with pockets of strength being outgunned by severe weakness in spot radio, down 10.1%, as well as in most print media categories.

According to the data from Nielsen Monitor-Plus, cable TV was the star category, showing 8.1% growth, followed by syndication TV at 7.2%.

Spanish-language TV showed a 4.5% increase, while more modest gains were notched by spot TV and network radio.

Nielsen said the top 10 product categories spent $20.71 billion in the first half, down fractionally from a year ago.

Like last year, automotive companies spent the most, though their $5.33 billion ad spend was down 8% from a year ago. Of the 10 categories, the pharmaceutical and motion picture industries were the only other two to cut back on advertising. The movie industry spent $1.73 billion, down 4.6% from a year ago.

Among the top 10 companies spending money to advertise their products, only one, Time Warner, was a media company. TW spent $592 million in the first half, down 8.8% from a year ago.

The latest ad report came ahead of the fifth annual Advertising Week in New York, which offers Madison Avenue a week of panels, presentations and social events designed to energize those who work in the sector.

A boost of energy will be what Madison Avenue and media companies need amid the continuing economic sluggishness that has the presidential candidates vying for attention with their economic plans.

Media executives have said national network TV ad trends have remained healthy, while local TV stations have been under pressure.

As of late, there has been increased concern that weak economic trends also are slowing growth in online advertising, the biggest growth driver in the sector.

Among others, media buying firm Carat, JPMorgan and Cowen have all recently lowered their online ad growth forecasts for 2008, and in some cases for 2009, with display ads weak while Google-like search ads remaining strong.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and InterActiveCorp. CEO Barry Diller were among those acknowledging these trends this week at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference.

Paul Bond reported from Los Angeles; Georg Szalai reported from New York.