Commentary

Christmas 2018 Is TV's 'Uber Moment'

To quote a line from the amazing musical, "Hamilton," "the world turned upside down" over the past week when it came to television advertising. It has become a little cliched to talk about a channel or industry having its "Uber moment," but it kind of feels appropriate when a record fourth quarter for UK advertising actually sees tv spending going down.

That was this morning's news, and it came after we had Iceland's "Rang-Tan" winning Christmas before it has even begun -- in other words, before John Lewis has debuted its annual blockbuster ad.

In fact, we actually have Iceland appearing to stand head and shoulders above any other Christmas campaign that has ever aired. Thanks to social media sharing, it hasn't needed to spend a penny on airtime to do so. 

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This came just after ITV warned that tv ad spend would be down this December compared to the same period the year before. The pessimistic outlook for television was then confirmed by AA/Warc figures.

The Guardian has been crunching the numbers today and predicts that it will be a bumper Christmas period, with an additional GBP300m flooding into the UK advertising market compared to last year. This will take fourth-quarter overall spending to a record GBP6.4bn.

However, the big takeaway is The Guardian predicting that although overall spend will spike, tv will be down GBP44m in this fourth quarter compared to last. As recently as early summer, the paper points out, tv expenditure was forecast to rise by 1.6% in the fourth quarter, but now the latest estimate is that it will instead be down 1.4%.

It's hard to imagine that this is the fourth quarter, that this is Christmas and that this is television we're talking about. This is obviously the quarter where we not only have the run-up to Christmas and then the Boxing Day sales, but now also Black Friday and Cyber Monday. All this, and yet still tv spending is down.

Remember, the market is up to a record high exceeding six billion pounds for the quarter, so this cannot be blamed on Brexit, poor business or customer confidence. This is a channel decision, and I think Christmas 2018 will go down as the year television was served notice that digital marketing will continue to take increasing chunks out of its revenue streams.

It may seem wrong to say it's an Uber "moment" when the rise of digital display, social media and YouTube has been making inroads for several years. However, it is entirely appropriate when you consider that this has to be the first quarter -- or certainly the first festive quarter -- where ad spend has soared and tv revenue has declined because that extra money has not only been earmarked for digital channels, but existing spend has joined it and gone the way of Google and Facebook.

I am never one to write off television -- it's an absurd trendy remark to make at digital marketing conferences. However, this festive quarter was the first that the channel was served notice that the traditional 25% or so of new spending it would usually expect to enjoy can actually go into reverse and see it lose 1.6% instead.

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