Thanks to the ‘Great Recession‘, few expected Q1 2009 to be a pretty quarter for ad spending in the world’s most prolific advertising market, the United States.

Thanks to Nielsen (PDF), we now have some idea of the damage: a 12% year-over-decline. That amounts to a $3.8bn drop in the size of the total advertising pie.

Not a single media category escaped a drop in ad spending but, as one might have predicted, the drop was far from even.

The biggest drop (37.7%) was seen in the Local Sunday Supplements category. The smallest drop? Nope, it wasn’t the internet. That distinction belongs to the Spanish-Language Cable TV category, which only saw spending fall 1.1% year-over-year. Surprisingly (or not-so-surprisingly depending on what industry you work in) television held its own. Nielsen tracked a 2.7% decline for cable TV ad spend and a 4.8% decline for network TV. Not great, but certainly not the worst performance.

According to Nielsen, internet ad spending dropped 3.4% from the first quarter of 2008 but it must be noted that Nielsen’s internet figures “do not account for paid search advertising, text only, paid fee services, performance-based campaigns, sponsorships, barters, in-stream (“pre-rolls”) players, messenger applications, partnership advertising, promotions and email campaigns, or house advertising activity“. That makes it a bit more difficult to get a good feel for the internet as a whole but there’s little doubt that just about everything is down no matter who’s doing the measuring.

The only question now is whether there’s more room on the downside or if we’re set for a rebound later in the year. While there are glimmers of hope being reported in the US economy, until there’s strong evidence that consumers are spending money again, calling ‘bottom!‘ in the ad market may be premature. Until then, at least everyone outside of the print media can take solace in the fact that it could be much, much worse.

Photo credit: net_efekt via Flickr.