Shares in ITV fell steeply after the broadcaster forecast a lukewarm revenue boost from airing the World Cup, heightening investor fears that the cost of living crisis will crash the UK advertising market.
The UK’s largest commercial broadcaster has forecast year-on-year increases of 3% for November and 5-10% in December – which, with the World Cup and the Christmas marketing blitz, would usually mean an advertising bonanza.
“Relative to the overall UK ad market, ITV has done OK,” said Simon Davis, founder of the media agency Walk-In Media. “The problem is the rapid decline in total market revenue in the second half, which was not forecast. Overall, the fourth quarter is going to be flat for ITV, and that is with a World Cup.
“When the World Cup is in June it normally drives double-digit growth, and ITV’s December forecast will only hold up if England progress to the quarter-finals and beyond. As recently as the summer, ITV will have hoped for much better.”
Historically, the tournament is a bonanza for ITV, with advertisers clamouring to pay up to £500,000 for a 30-second slot in a high-profile England game.
However, multiple media agency sources say that this time the World Cup is saving ITV from a poor year overall, making up for a wider malaise that is increasingly affecting the UK ad market and therefore not providing the usual major boost to revenues.
The event’s timing also means that many advertisers who might launch special ad campaigns when the World Cup is held during the summer in the northern hemisphere are not earmarking extra budget this time because the tournament falls within their traditional Christmas spending plans.
Some advertisers also have concerns about campaigns that associate their brands with the World Cup host Qatar’s human rights record.
Rattled investors sent ITV’s share price down more than 6% in morning trading on Wednesday, making it one of the biggest fallers in the FTSE 250.
ITV said that total ad revenues, including TV, digital and sponsorship, had fallen 2% in the nine months to the end of September. In its last financial report the broadcaster said it expected income to be “broadly flat” for the period.
The broadcaster’s figures show a steady deterioration in the UK ad market since the middle of the year, with August down 21% and September falling 14%. Overall, third-quarter ad revenue will be down 14% year on year.
Strong double-digit growth at ITV Studios, which makes shows including I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, Hell’s Kitchen and A Spy Among Friends, failed to temper market sentiment.
The 16% increase in revenues in the first nine months at ITV Studios, which makes shows for ITV and other broadcasters, offset the fall in ad revenue, pushing total ITV revenues up 6% to £2.5bn.
ITV is due to launch its new ad-supported streaming service, ITVX, which will replace ITV Hub and include a paid tier with access to content from its BritBox joint venture with the BBC, on 8 December.
“While we remain mindful of the macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainty, there’s strong operational momentum,” said Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of ITV.
Advertisers are pulling back on overall marketing spend, with the industry body Warc forecasting 4.5% year-on-year growth for the final quarter, the smallest for a Christmas period in almost a decade, excluding 2020 when the nation was in the grip of pandemic lockdown restrictions.