As soon as ITV predicted that December television ad spending was likely to be down by as much as 8%, The Guardian noticed that its share price dropped 5%. November would be a good month, the broadcaster had announced, but the traditional big spending month that plays host to Christmas was going to be significantly down.
The news coincides with the release of AA/Warc's latest figures on ad spending. These show that as we already know, 2017 was a poor year for television advertising, with a drop of just over 3% compared to 2016. This meant that 2018 had been seen as television's comeback year. However, the latest figures show a rather glacial return to growth of just 1.4%, followed by a further drop to a mere 0.8% growth in 2019.
The elephant in the proverbial room here is that 2018 was a World Cup year. This is obviously always a bonanza year for television advertising. It is a bigger event, revenue wise, than the Winter Olympics because not only is football the national game, but the Olympics are shown on ad-free BBC channels in the UK.
So although ad spending has already been down as we entered 2018, not even the World Cup could provide enough growth to nullify the dip of 2017 over 2016 and verify the here and now as as the comeback year for television.
A November increase in ITV ad revenue would suggest that advertisers are spending at the start of the festive season, in time for Black Friday, but then cutting back in December -- perhaps as a frequency capping measure?
As ever, the interesting part with all ad figures is that although television registered a tiny glimmer of growth in 2018, despite a poor forecast for December, the real story is that internet advertising is up 13% and within that figure, mobile is forecast to rise 27%.
This ever-present shift to digital means that AA/Warc predicts VOD advertising will be up 10% this year and will then grow again next year by nearly the same amount. It is little consolation for broadcasters because the VOD market is around a twentieth the size of traditional television advertising and so gains in the niche have minimal impact on the bottom line. However, it does show where advertisers are willing to spend more this year than last.
There are probably a number of reasons why Christmas is looking like a season of disappointment for broadcasters. Brexit woes have seen a slip in consumer and business confidence, and advertisers may be thinking they have spent too much in previous years showing consumers the same big festive ad over and over again until it turned customers off.
It is worth remembering that ad spend is not down -- it's forecast to be up 6.3%. So more money is flowing into advertising. It's just that the new money is being steered toward the internet and mobile channels.
It's going to be a tough Christmas for television advertising, and the AA/Warc figures suggest more glacial growth for 2019 that could border on flatlining.