Early indications suggest that the market is down 4 per cent, which represents the first decline since April. A collapse in ITV's revenue is behind the decline, with agencies predicting that it will be down by between 5 per cent and 10 per cent.
There are fears that if, as expected, the total figures do slip into the red this could mark the beginning of a second fall in a double-dip recession, nullifying the previous seven months of growth.
Mick Perry, the chairman of Magna Global UK, warned: "Although December is traditionally a difficult month to predict because of the number and type of brands that advertise, the consensus is that ITV will be down and the market cautious."
The first end-of-year estimates suggest that spending from record labels is expected to be sharply down, reflecting the general malaise in the music industry. But an increase in spend by alcohol brands is propping the market up.
Although December could make a depressing end to the year, 2002 has seen some dramatic changes to the TV landscape. "The clear winners are Sky and Five, which have put on both audience and share. Channel 4 is still important to schedules because of its remit and its audience, but for the first time, among buyers, there is less confidence in the station," Perry said.
The predictions mean that ITV looks likely to end the year down by 2 per cent, Channel 4 up 4 per cent, GMTV flat, Five up 23 per cent and multi-channel up 13 per cent. This is against a backdrop of a 3.3 per cent increase in total TV spend on last year.
Sales directors agree that visibility is poor for the beginning of next year, but are optimistic that the first quarter of 2002 was so dire that it could show small improvements.